How Germany is trying to discover new strains of Covid-19
Germany has embarked on a campaign to find out the prevalence of the most contagious strains of Covid-19 among those infected, building on a new test that promises faster results than genome sequencing.
About two dozen labs in Europe’s largest economy will re-test thousands of confirmed coronavirus samples this week to look for the variants that have caused increased infections in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
They use some 100,000 specially designed PCR tests donated by TIB Molbiol Syntheselabor GmbH, a Berlin-based biotechnology company that was among the first in the world last year to develop kits to detect the coronavirus. The company’s new test, which is also based on the polymerase chain reaction diagnostic method, has been tweaked to identify certain mutations in the virus spike protein and can produce results within hours, rather than them. few days needed for sequencing.
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“The aim is to identify these cases and possibly isolate them more strictly,” said Olfert Landt, managing director of TIB, which has developed tests for diseases ranging from swine flu to SARS. “He’s supposed to give an accurate state of the nation.”
Europe has become a global hotspot for the virus, with the EU urging member states to do more to track dangerous mutations through genome sequencing.
German authorities last week tightened the rules for wearing face masks, becoming the first major European country to demand medical-grade protection in shops and on public transport in the hope of controlling strains in faster spread. They also quarantined a Berlin hospital after at least 20 staff and patients tested positive for the UK variant. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, warned on Sunday that faster spreading transfers “will inevitably gain the upper hand” in the country.
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Germany still lacks more comprehensive data on the prevalence of the new variants in the country, only verifying individual probes by paying labs around 200 euros ($ 243) per sequencing. TIB’s updated PCR test, developed in late December, costs around $ 3, Landt said. The company has sold around 250,000 of the tests to dozens of laboratories in countries ranging from Switzerland to Sweden.
Landt said he is already preparing for the next mutation in the virus. If that happens, his company may come up with a new PCR test to detect it within 24 hours, he said.