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Malaysian Researchers Discover Unique Lineage of COVID-19 Virus in the Country

By Jayasyaliny Jayaraj
June 17, 2020

Photo courtesy of Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP)

A consortium of researchers performing whole-genome sequencing of the prevailing COVID-19 virus in Malaysia has discovered that the virus strains have evolved from different lineages. The team from Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP), Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM) Kuantan and Makmal Kesihatan Awam Johor Baru were led by UMP’s Dr. Hajar Fauzan Ahmad of the Faculty of Industrial Sciences and Technology. The UMP-hosted research began in early May.

The team jointly performed whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of the currently circulating COVID-19 strains in Malaysia to identify the lineages of the strains and to match with the other locally sequenced strains. 

“Viruses are prone to mutate in response to various factors and it is the same with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Dr. Fauzan told The Petri Dish.

“Based on the sequenced Covid-19 strain, early findings have shown that there is a unique clade  - a group of virus from a common ancestor - of the Covid-19 virus in the state of Pahang as compared to the clade reported by other local researchers,” Dr. Fauzan added. The discovery of a new clade, strain, variation, and locus of mutation were carried out based on the sequencing data of the RNA virus obtained from IIUM Medical Centre and Makmal Kesihatan Awam Johor Baru.

Dr. Fauzan is an expert in High-throughput Sequencing (microbiome and metabolome). He said that the samples collected from Perak, Pahang, and Johor for sequencing were taken from asymptomatic individuals – persons who are infected by COVID-19 but do not show symptoms of the disease.

The study is still in its early stage, but the RNAs sequenced by the team has been peer-reviewed by Gael Millot, a scientist from the Pasteur Institute, France, upon acceptance to GISAID - a global science initiative and primary source for genomic data of influenza viruses and the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

Currently, the UMP COVID-19 team is actively researching the strain variation and immune response against this specific strain to ultimately develop a specific and sensitive diagnostic method for Covid-19. The outcome of the research will also be used to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine.

The research is funded by UMP and the Malaysia Genome Institute (MGI). Dr. Hajar Fauzan has been appointed as a co-researcher at MGI for the WGS and bioinformatics analysis of COVID-19 in Malaysia under the funding of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).

This article was published earlier in The Petri Dish. To subscribe, go to the subscription page

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