How INSACOG Found India’s ‘Double Mutant’ Variant and What CCMB Plans to Research Now

April 19, 2021 0 Comments

With experts across the world declaring the so-called double variant or B.1.617, first discovered in Maharashtra, as a variant of concern (VoC) in the fight against Covid, Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) has taken up the task of decoding whether the new double variant-B.1.617- is driving the second wave.

CCMB is conducting genome sequencing of samples collected from various states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. The results are expected to be out in two weeks.

What is CCMB?

Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) is one of the constituent national laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research CSIR. CCMB was earlier holding talks with Moderna to manufacture the American biotechnology firm’s vaccine in India. Currently, it has taken up the task of decoding whether the new double variant-B.1.617- is driving the second wave. It is also a part of INSACOG, launched by the government in December last year.

What is INSACOG?

The INSACOG was established in December end for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the country. It is a consortium of 10 labs that was formed to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network. CCMB is also part of the 10 labs constituting INSACOG.

What CCMB said on Double Mutant

The double mutant was first revealed in March when the health ministry said that a unique “double mutant” coronavirus variant, with a combination of mutations not seen anywhere else in the world, has been found in India. The double mutant was first revealed after the genome sequencing of a section of the virus by INSACOG, which found the presence of the two mutations in 200 virus samples from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi.

CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra earlier this month said that the double mutant found in Maharashtra is a matter of concern, but not a cause to create panic. He had added that he cannot link double mutant to the surge in cases in Maharashtra during that stage.

Why is INSACOG-CCMB’s study important?

Public health experts worry that the new variant or the so-called double mutation is being said to be behind the rapid surge in infections across the country. However, CCMB’s study would confirm if the double mutant is behind the second wave of Covid in the country.

“The results will be out in a week or two. We will know then if then if the new variant that carries several mutations including the main ones- E484Q and L452R is responsible for the spurt in new cases of it is more infectious than other variants,” CCMB director Dr Rakesh Kumar Mishra told Times of India.

With over 200,000 fresh cases for the past three consecutive days, India has surpassed Brazil to be the second worst-country. Reports say that the double mutation has been found in several countries like Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US, according to a government statement from April 16. “Higher transmissibility of this variant is not established as yet,” it said.

“The purpose of our study is to understand whether the new variant is carrying several mutations and triggering the surge,” CCMB Director Dr Rakesh Mishra explained. “We don’t have enough research to understand if B.1.617 is more infectious than other variants,” he added. Dr Mishra also argued that it would be wrong to call the new variant a ‘double mutant’ as it reportedly comprises several mutations- apart from E484Q and L452R.

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