The United Kingdom and South Africa discovered new SARS-CoV-2 variants in their domestic Covid-19 cases. The variants were found using genome sequencing techniques that analyze the structure of the virus and discern mutations. These genome sequencing techniques were regularly used worldwide at the start of the pandemic when we knew less about the virus, but they have since fallen by the wayside. The US and other countries should follow the UK and South Africa’s footsteps in terms of revamped genome sequencing regimes, as the next variant may be hiding in our backyard.
Genome sequencing is essentially determining the order of chemical “bases” of a DNA molecule. Scientists use these sequences to identify genes, regulatory instructions, or in the case of Covid-19, mutations to a virus. Sequencing efforts early on in the pandemic helped scientists determine the structure of the virus, as well as early mutations that helped the virus be transmissible enough to cause a massive pandemic.