‘Variant network’ to expand sequencing of COVID-19 cases in Texas


Digital generated image of Covid-19 cell surrounded by plexus structured shell on black background. (File: Getty)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of State Health Services is partnering with universities and labs across the state to analyze COVID-19 variants.

DSHS said it’s trying to expand genomic sequencing of the virus to get a better idea of which variants are circulating in Texas and which ones could be on the rise.

The new partnership called the Texas SARS-CoV-2 Variant Network is expected to increase current sequencing efforts in the state by at least 25%.

DSHS said sequencing a portion of state COVID-19 cases can paint a good picture of the variants circulating in the state right now. Work has already started to figure out how much sequencing is needed in different regions to rapidly detect those new variants when they pop up.

The health agency explained variants are formed when viruses replicate. Some variants don’t come with consequences, but others can spread and overtake past versions of the virus.

For example, DSHS said the variant of COVID-19 that caused the first cases in the state in 2020 is no longer being detected in Texas. That variant was taken over by the alpha variant earlier this year, and the alpha variant has now almost been entirely replaced by delta.

Some of the universities DSHS will be working with include UTHealth Houston’s School of Public Health and the Meyers Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. UTHealth Houston will be helping to coordinate academic centers and commercial labs in the state and Meyers Lab will work on reliable ways for choosing samples to ensure novel and existing variants in Texas are found.

UT Austin has its own genomic sequencing and analysis facility, which also processes COVID-19 cases. In February of this year, the facility was working to identify the U.K. variant on campus.

The project is made possible in part by a grant which lasts through May 2023.

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