UMGC receives CDC funding to sequence 6,000 COVID samples

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (06/02/2021) — The University of Minnesota Genomics Center (UMGC) announced today it has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct genome sequencing on 6,000 COVID-19 samples to aid national and global viral surveillance efforts.

The nearly $750,000 contract will allow UMGC to sequence samples of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, over the course of one year in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Sequencing allows scientists to determine the exact nature of the virus at the genetic level, which known variant it pertains to and whether any new virus mutations are present.

“Sequencing and genomic surveillance have been, and will continue to be, really important throughout the pandemic,” said Daryl Gohl, Ph.D., principal investigator on the CDC contract and group leader with UMGC’s Innovation Lab. “Understanding when the virus is evolving and how it is changing lets you determine how outbreaks are happening and if additional public health interventions are needed.”
Public health experts can use the data and analysis provided through sequencing to trace where virus outbreaks originate, monitor for new variants, and spot changes in the virus as it attempts to evade the immune system. This information can inform the public health response, including investigation of outbreak clusters or other measures designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Under the award, UMGC will collaborate with MDH to identify which samples to sequence, and then provide the resulting data and analysis from those samples. To maintain patient privacy, the data released will only contain genomic information from the virus itself, not from the human who provided the sample. The minimal metadata that accompanies this genomic data will not contain information that can be used to identify an individual. 

Read the full press release here

COVID Surveillance on Other Fronts

As another way to watch for new strains of SARS-CoV-2, UMGC has collaborated with the Metropolitan Council to monitor the wastewater flushed down toilets in the Twin Cities. UMGC has used quantitative PCR, digital PCR, and, most recently, next-generation sequencing to interrogate samples from the primary sewage treatment plant in St. Paul, in order to spot early warning signs of new COVID outbreaks.

In addition to sequencing, UMGC has performed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests over the course of the pandemic in collaboration with the UMN Medical School. As employers and schools look to return to in-person working and learning, the center is equipped to provide testing support to these and other organizations that need large-scale, low-cost testing.

Contact the UMGC Director, Dr. Kenny Beckman at kbeckman@umn.edu, with inquiries about COVID sequencing. See the UMGC's SARS-CoV-2 Service page for more information on genome sequencing and COVID testing.