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What SA scientists' huge find means for unlocking COVID-19 secrets

Scientists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseasesand UWC's South African Bioinformatics Institute successfully sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a South African COVID-19 patient.

Picture: 123rf

CAPE TOWN - Information hidden in the genetic building blocks of the coronavirus will assist contact tracers as they hunt for suspected COVID-19 cases.

Scientists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and University of Western Cape's South African Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) successfully sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a South African COVID-19 patient.

Experts who unlocked these hidden secrets through the laboratory process produced a genetic "fingerprint" that's a step towards better understanding and curbing the spread of virus.

SANBI's Peter van Heusden explains what's useful about this information.

"The main group that I think we can help are people who are doing in-contact tracing, who are trying to see how it goes from one person to another. So, we can assist the contact tracing people doing their fieldwork by giving them the missing pieces of the puzzle that they were not able to find."

Van Heusden said that this research could also assist in the virus' vaccine development.

"We need to know which bits of the virus are stable and which bits are changing all the time because the vaccine must find the bit that's going to stay the same and target that."

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