Coronavirus may have come to Bangladesh from UK: Samir Saha

Emran Hossain | Published: 15:49, Jun 04,2020


Samir Kumar Saha and his daughter Senjuti Saha.—Facebook photo

The first-ever sequencing of the new coronavirus genome in Bangladesh indicates that the strain sequenced entered the country from the United Kingdom, according to the team that accomplished the sequencing.

‘We believe that the strain we sequenced was carried to Bangladesh by someone travelling from the UK,’ said Samir Kumar Saha, the leader of the team of scientists from Child Health Research Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that successfully ran the sequencing.

He said that the time was yet to come to say with one hundred per cent certainty where the virus strain they sequenced came from for a similar strain could also be found infecting people in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Taiwan.

‘But it is most likely that it came from the UK,’ said Samir, an eminent microbiologist and the executive director of CHRF.

He said that they were working with genetic engineers and biotechnologists to determine whether the virus strain underwent any unique mutation after entering Bangladesh.

He said that the virus strain supposedly underwent nine mutations by the time it entered Bangladesh and there were signs that it mutated after it entered the country.

A transmission map available on the website of GISAID, a database of thousands of genetic sequencing done across the world on the new coronavirus, showed that the strain sequenced from the UK travelled a long way.

The strain travelled out of the UK early February towards other European countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary and then moved on to infect people in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The map was produced by analysing data provided by 5,234 genome sequencings that also showed that the strain first went out of China late December toward Africa via Asia and the Middle East and reached Latin America by early January.

It entered the USA within a few days and then travelled towards the UK, where it reached early February, showed the GISAID transmission map.

The strain that was sequenced in Bangladesh entered the country in April and the person from whom the virus was isolated for sequencing got infected on April 18, said Samir.

Bangladesh announced its firs coronavirus infection on March 8 and the first death from the infection 10 days later.

So far the virus killed 298 people in Bangladesh and more than 300,000 around the world while infecting over four million people globally. More than 20,000 people got infected in Bangladesh.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University biotechnology and genetic engineering professor Tofazzal Islam said that genome sequencing was all about finding out the basic structure of an organism.

The coronavirus is made of four nucleotides arranged in about 30,000 permutations and combinations as revealed in genome sequencings across the globe, Tofazzal added.

A virus starts duplicating itself once inside a host and the duplication often comes with error in RNA virus, resulting in changes in the order of the constituting nucleotides, which is called mutation, he explained.

Different strains may appear as the mutation continues as the virus is always trying to adapt to new conditions as the pandemic caused by it progresses across geographical and environmental conditions, he said.

Scientists around the world still debate the number of strains the new coronavirus has developed and they are far from specifying the order of nucleotides responsible for a certain quality in the virus such as its virulence or transmissibility or resistance against medication.

Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US revealed in April that a mutation strengthens the protein spike through which the coronavirus attaches to host cell.

The scientists said that the mutated strain was primarily very uncommon but later became dominant in Europe, North America and Australia.

‘We are dealing with one of the smartest viruses in history,’ said Samir.

He said that changing symptoms in infected people bears testimony to the coronavirus mutating fast in various environments.

Soon after the emergence the virus caused loose motion among patients in China but the people it infected in countries such as the UK complained about losing sense of taste and smell, he said.

The virus causes hypoxia that can remain hidden until it pushes the patient to the verge of dying, he said.

Until a stage the established notion was that the virus could only be found in the respiratory system but lately it was detected in semen samples in Europe, he said.

‘It is likely that it gets to brain as well,’ said Samir.

Samir plans to sequence 80 to 100 samples in the next two months from different localities and times to find out if different strains were prevalent in Bangladesh and the way they were mutating.

‘We need to block mutations where it can get even more deadly. Genome sequencing helps us to go there,’ said Samir.

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