India First Nation to Successfully Isolate, Culture UK Coronavirus Variant, Says ICMR

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India has successfully cultured the new coronavirus strain, which originated in the UK, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Saturday. In a tweet, the ICMR claimed that no country has yet reported successful isolation and culture of the UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Culture is the process by which cells are grown under controlled conditions, generally outside their natural environment. "UK-variant of the virus, with all signature changes, is now successfully isolated and cultured at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) from the clinical specimens collected from UK-returnees," the ICMR said.

The research body said vero cell lines were used by the scientists of ICMR-NIV to culture the UK-variant of the virus. The UK had recently announced that the newly identified strain of the virus found in their population was up to 70 per cent more infectious. A total of 29 people have tested positive for the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in India so far, the Union Health Ministry said on Friday.

The British Government had recently announced that the newly identified strain of the virus found in their population is up to 70 per cent more transmissible, following which India sprung into action.

The country put in place a pro-active and preventive strategy to detect and contain the variant. So far, the new variant has been detected in 29 UK returnees through genome sequencing.

"India successfully cultures the new viral strain on the horizon (UK variant of SARS-COV-2). UK-variant of the virus, with all signature changes, is now successfully isolated and cultured at the National Institute of Virology from the clinical specimens collected from UK-returnees," the apex research council said.

Notably, no country has yet reported successful isolation and culture of the UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2. In India, Vero cell lines were used by the scientists of ICMR-NIV to culture the UK-variant of the virus.

The new UK Variant has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

From November 25 to December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers had disembarked at various Indian airports from UK. All these passengers are being tracked and subjected by States and UTs to RT-PCR tests to track down the mutant coronavirus strain.

Meanwhile, four people who recently returned to Gujarat from the UK have tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus, a top state health department official said on Saturday. Results of the 15 samples that had tested positive for coronavirus on arrival in Ahmedabad from the UK are currently pending with the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, the official added.

Although mutations of the Sars-CoV-2 have been reported in recent months from various parts of the world, the VUI-202012/01 variant traced in the UK has raised cause for concern. Addressing a press conference, PM Johnson said that preliminary data evidenced that it is 70% more transmissible.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), an expert committee of the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in its report concluded that it has “moderate confidence that VUI-202012/01 demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants.” The UK government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty was also quoted as saying by The Guardian, “Nervtag now considers that the new strain can spread more quickly. We have alerted the World Health Organization and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.”

While the high transmissibility rate is alarming, there is no evidence yet of it causing severe illness or mortality rate. Moreover, scientists are still trying to discern why the strain is spreading faster. Stuart Neil, a professor of virology at King’s College London told Guardian that the new variant was associated with 10-15 percent of cases in certain areas until a few weeks ago but jumped to roughly 60% cases in London.

Mutation refers to a change in the genetic sequence of the virus which occurs as a result of its reproduction. The virus spreads by attaching itself to a host cell and injecting its genetic material into the cell. However, when the host tries to fight this reproduction, the virus finds new ways to survive, thereby adapting and evolving.