Update on the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Project at the GHA Covid Laboratory

Over the last two weeks the sequencing team have been busy running a series of experiments to validate the genome sequencing equipment and technical process in the GHA Covid Laboratory at the Gibraltar University.

Dr Zoe Vincent Mistiaen attended the Francis Crick Institute in London the week before last and received advanced training/advice, including useful tips on fine tuning the process from experts in the field. Dr Zoe Vincent Mistiaen said It was an amazing opportunity to learn from sequencing experts at the largest Biomedical research in Europe and return to the place where I did my PhD. The Crick have been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 for over a year.”

The team, made up of molecular biology specialists Ms Charlotte Gillborn-Jones, Mr Cory Cavilla, Dr Martyn Bell and Dr Zoe Vincent Mistiaen ave already sequenced over 100 positive samples in Gibraltar over the last two weeks using cutting-edge, next generation nanopore sequencing equipment and using the Arctic V3 protocol. These samples are from December 2020 and where the SARS-Cov-2 variant is known because they have already recently been tested by the Public Health England Laboratory in Colindale. The aim of the validation is to provide assurance that the laboratory team in Gibraltar is able to accurately and consistently reproduce the same results as the Public Health England Laboratory.

So far the validation is going very well, all sequences tested so far in Gibraltar have matched the results from the Public Health England laboratory. The validation exercise should be completed this week. This has coincided with the visit this week by Dr Nick Cortes GHA Clinical Microbiologist who will personally review and formally sign off the validation work together with Dr Daniel Cassaglia Clinical Lead for the Covid Laboratory. This will then herald the formal launch of the genome sequencing service. The first sequences to be tested will be the most recent positive samples from seafarers (visitors to Gibraltar) who have been quarantining on board their ship in the Bay of Gibraltar.

Minister for Health Samantha Sacramento said “Next generation genome sequencing technology has recently been compared to the invention of the microscope. This technology is truly amazing. The pandemic has forced us to invest to develop and massively expand our in-house GHA Molecular Biology services and also include genome sequencing in our repertoire of tests, I am very proud of what the GHA teams have achieved. The technology can also be applied to many other areas of medicine and biotechnology including genetics and cancer diagnosis. This mirrors what is happening across the world where the adoption of genomics into infectious disease management and into society more broadly has been accelerated by several years as a result of the Pandemic”.