How genomics plays a pivotal role in the fight against COVID-19

Scientists use genomics to study the genetic material of living organisms, including humans, plants, animals and microorganisms. It may come as a surprise, but viruses too have genetic material (DNA and RNA) that can be analyzed using genomics tools. When studying the genome of a virus, such as the SARS-CoV2 causing COVID-19, scientists are able to better understand its characteristics, vulnerabilities, mechanism of action and evolution.

Genomics can also be used to study the genome of patients and the wide range of symptoms caused by the disease in order to better understand how the virus interacts with the biological systems of humans.

Biobanque québécoise de la COVID-19 (BQC19)

To fight COVID-19, researchers need high-quality biological samples and medical data from patients infected with the coronavirus. The BQC19 holds biological samples from more than 4,500 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 with mild to severe symptoms.

Biobanque Génome Québec and CIUSSS du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean

Since the start of the pandemic, this biobank has been storing tens of thousands of nasopharyngeal samples collected from people with COVID-19 at various hospitals in Québec. The samples are used to isolate and sequence the virus in order to monitor its evolution and spread. The availability of high-quality, well-organized human biological tissue collected early in the pandemic will serve as a long-term source of information for the Québec research community.

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Sequencing the virus

Génome Québec is working with the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec on a pan-Canadian initiative (CanCogen, VirusSeq) whose mandate is to collect and analyze some 150,000 viral sequences from patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. The viral sequences obtained in Quebec will be pooled with those from other provinces to determine the entry pathways of the virus, its spread and its evolution

Sequencing patients samples 

To better understand the significant variability of symptoms associated with the SARS-Cov-2 virus, researchers are hard at work studying the human genome. Génome Québec has joined the pan-Canadian effort (CanCogen, HostSeq) involved in collecting some 10,000 genomes from Canadians infected with SARS-Cov-2 and presenting a variety of COVID-19 symptoms.

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Research funding

Génome Québec, in partnership with Genome Canada, has invested $1 million in a large-scale project involving the discovery of new therapeutic molecules using an innovative approach based on artificial intelligence.

Evaluation of research projects

Early on in the pandemic, following a call for proposals on short-term solutions to combat COVID-19, Génome Québec received and assessed more than 60 research project proposals. In collaboration with the Québec government, a first funding announcement has, so far, supported five projects on COVID-19.

Screening infected people

The Centre d’expertise et de services (CES) Génome Québec was called upon to participate in the Quebec screening effort, in partnership with CHU Sainte-Justine.

Services for research teams

During the first three months of the pandemic, the Génome Québec CES offered priority genotyping and sequencing services to researchers working on COVID-19. Services have been provided to all users since May 25, 2020.

To learn more about the Génome Québec CES, click here