The Wellcome Sanger Institute has just launched the new Respiratory Virus and Microbiome Initiative, which will lay the groundwork for large-scale genomic surveillance of respiratory viruses, building on the Institute’s genomics expertise, as well as the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This initiative’s primary aim is “to develop the capability for routine genomic surveillance of respiratory viruses, including influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus and rhinovirus as well as monitor for emerging pathogens,”, and is led by expert researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute who will work closely with partners at the UK Health and Security Agency, in addition to other UK public health and academic institutions.
The team will initially combine the genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other common respiratory viruses in one test with the aim to identify all genes and species, including viral, bacterial, and fungal, in a single nose swab sample using metagenomic methods. These methods will be developed utilizing residual samples from diagnostic swabs, providing a baseline for respiratory virus dynamics in the UK and creating a publicly available extensive viral genome dataset.
The work of the initiative will help increase the knowledge of prevalent pathogens in the UK, provide early detection of new viruses, support public health actions, and investigate the transmission and evolution of respiratory microorganisms, track antimicrobial resistance, as well as aid in the creation of new vaccines and increase the effectiveness of current ones. Moreover, if successful, it could also become a blueprint to strengthen virus tracking in other countries, and help further establish the UK as a genomics superpower. Part of initiative will also involve undertaking work into the dynamics of the respiratory microbiome, studying how the microbiome changes during infection and its impact on the severity of illness. Moreover, the data, protocols and methods generated by this project will be made freely and publicly available.
Dr Ewan Harrison, Head of the Respiratory Virus & Microbiome Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said about the project: “The Respiratory Virus & Microbiome Initiative is an exciting opportunity to build on the technology and methodology that has been developed for genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 during the pandemic. We aim to help answer some of the most pressing public health questions, while at the same time addressing some of the gaps in our basic knowledge about respiratory infection and health. Ultimately, we hope to contribute to global efforts to further establish pathogen genomics for routine public health and research, and as part of pandemic preparedness.”.
Indeed, this project comes as both viral and microbiome research are gaining traction, with the rapid increase in the number of research papers using the term “microbiome” or “microbiota” over the past few years, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Ewan Harrison and Dame Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency, will also be discussing pathogen genomics in more detail at the upcoming Festival of Genomics and Biodata, happening later this month – tickets are free for 90% of our attendees so if this interests you, be sure to sign up here!