COVID-19 genome sequencing project gets major upgrade

Supercomputing facilities set up to track the spread and evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic have received £1.2m in government funding to expand globally.

The new funding will enable the CLIMB COVID-19 project, led by Cardiff University and the University of Birmingham, to carry out significant upgrades to computational equipment to process and store genomic data on a global scale.

CLIMB COVID-19 is a big data project supporting the COVID-19 Genomics consortium (COG-UK), set up to deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the causes of COVID-19.

It emerged from the CLIMB-BIG-DATA project in March 2020 as a bioinformatics platform providing data analysis pipelines, computing and storage capacity required to analyse large genome datasets produced by COG-UK. The project has so far sequenced more than 150,000 genomes in the UK.

Bioinformatics and phylogenetics are key steps to making use of genome data to understand better how the virus spreads, and how it is evolving.

The recent global spread of novel COVID-19 variants has demonstrated the value of genomic surveillance as viruses do not respect borders and can move quickly and easily. It is important to track viruses with different biological properties in order to make informed public health interventions, and to understand better the efficacy of drugs and vaccines.

Use of genome sequencing for COVID-19 in many countries has been limited, however. This new funding will enable global genomic data to be stored and processed. It will also enable researchers to extend research to cover other pathogens with pandemic potential as well as tracking other threats such as anti-microbial resistance.

Professor Thomas Connor, an expert in pathogen genomics from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: “The success of CLIMB-COVID has been built on collaborative endeavour, and we are excited that we will be able to support global collaboration through this new award.”

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