By John Smith • 22 April 2021 • 16:00
The new Genome Sequencing team
Credit: Gibraltar Government
THE Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) will soon be carrying out whole genome sequencing on the SARS-CoV 2 virus that causes Covid-19.
The service will be located at the GHA’s COVID Laboratory currently located at the University of Gibraltar which was set up to undertake Covid screening tests and the lab is already staffed by senior scientists with extensive Molecular Biology Experience.
Dr Zoe Vincent-Mistiaen MA (Oxon) PhD is the lead PCR Molecular Biology Scientist at the Covid Laboratory with Ms Charlotte Gillborn-Jones MSc LIBMS Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology at SBH and Dr Martyn Bell BSc D. Phil (Oxon) MBChB a Medical Doctor from St Bernard’s Hospital who has extensive experience in genetic sequencing academic research at Oxford University has been temporarily seconded to the Covid laboratory to set up this service.
Dr Nick Cortes, GHA Consultant Medical Microbiologist who leads the project said: “The Gibraltar COVID Lab are currently in the process of enrolling as a member of a UK genome sequencing consortium (COG-UK) based at Cambridge University. The team will be sharing all the virus sequences obtained in Gibraltar with the consortium and in that way contribute to the world-wide knowledge of covid variants and patterns of transmission.”
His colleague Dr Cassaglia, explained, “Until now, the GHA have sent a number of positive samples to Public Health England reference laboratories in the UK. The results have taken up to two months to be reported due to a backlog caused by the large number of sequences being carried out in the UK.
“The local team aims to sequence all new positive cases in Gibraltar within 72 hours of a positive test so that the exact SARS-CoV-2 viral lineage causing the COVID-19 infection can be identified early on.
“The lineage information will be important to help inform public health interventions. New mutations, variants and lineages come and go over time, and using genomic sequencing we can monitor for the minor fraction of variants that might behave differently when infecting people or encountering people with immune responses primed by vaccination or previous infection.”
Dr Nick Cortes, added: “Knowing which variants are circulating in Gibraltar in real time will give us an important advantage in reducing the risk and managing any future Covid-19 outbreaks.”
Gibraltar has steadily relaxed most of its Covid rules as there have been no new cases on the Rock and vaccination has been so successful that it is now being offered to students (with reservation of vaccine for those currently in the UK).
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Married to Ophelia in Gibraltar in 1978, John has spent much of his life travelling on security print and minting business and visited every continent except Antarctica.
Having retired several years ago, the couple moved to their house in Estepona and John became a regular news writer for the EWN Media Group taking particular interest in Finance, Gibraltar and Costa del Sol Social Scene.
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