The importance of teamwork in SARS-COV-2 research

Posted on: 1 March 2021 by Hannah Trivett in March posts

researchers in lab
From left to right: Hermione Webster, Mark Whitehead and Hannah Trivett, members of the COVID sequencing team, based at Liverpool.

Hannah Trivett is a PhD student who has been working on Covid-19 genome sequencing. She tells us how important a team work ethic has been in tackling the pandemic and contributing to the national scientific efforts in finding out more about the virus.

'Whilst many researchers retreated out of laboratories and into home offices, a handful of scientists remained on campus to begin COVID-19 sequencing. Nearly a year on, the team have produced over 10,000 sequences, providing vital information used by Public Health England (PHE) and local health teams to make important decisions on controlling the spread of the virus. As part of a network of laboratories within the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium (COG-UK), our job is to deliver rapid whole genome sequencing of COVID-19 samples.

The team was formed at the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020 from members of the Centre for Genomics Research (CGR) and volunteers across the institute. I joined the group in October 2020, volunteering alongside my PhD to help sequence the growing number of positive samples that the university receives from across the UK. In Liverpool, the COG-UK team receives samples and uses the latest technologies in genomic sequencing and laboratory protocols to deliver a rapid turnaround of COVID-19 sequences. I was grateful to be in the laboratory knowing many PhD students were still working from home. I quickly got to grips with the methods and using automated machinery within the process, skills which I knew I could draw upon when back in laboratory performing my own research for my PhD.

 researcher in the lab

Hannah loading samples on to the GridION in the COVID lab ready to be sequenced.

After receiving COVID samples, they are prepared using the ARTIC protocol, to be sequenced on the GridION, an Oxford Nanopore Technology device. The data is shared to bioinformaticians who analyse the data to find variations in the genome. To date, we have sequenced over 13,000 samples, a collective effort achieved by hard work and dedication from all members of the team here in Liverpool. The data produced provides information about the viral genome, allowing scientists to identify mutations, changes in which variants are circulating and allows for epidemiologists to track variant outbreaks such as the London and South African variants. Collectively this data allows individuals to make informed decisions about outbreak spread and drug targets necessary for effective vaccine production.

Most recently the team have been taking part in environmental surveillance alongside patient sample sequencing, to detect traces of COVID-19 in wastewater samples. Taking samples of wastewater from a variety of regions across the UK, we are able to see variation in the genetic code between cities and identify variants that are indicative of localised outbreaks.

The pandemic has proven tough for many but with the resilience of the COVID-19 sequencing team in CGR, we were quickly able to adapt to new working conditions and pick up the pace being part of a rapid national sequencing service. The team have triumphed in the face of the pandemic ranking in the top three teams across the COG-UK consortium for the number of samples sequenced, highlighting the effort and dedication each team member has put in. In the midst of our third national lockdown, motivation has not dwindled. Now more than ever the team is motivated to keep breaking personal records of numbers of samples sequenced, to improve our understanding of SARS-CoV-2, which can be used for effective public health interventions.'

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Find out more about our Covid-19 genomic sequencing research

Listen to our Liverpool Responds: public health, viral variants and vaccinations event and hear about Liverpool's vital work in these areas.