Science unites rivals as Brics bloc launches joint Covid-19 research

Friday August 27 2021
Covid-19 research

A laboratory technician analyses Covid-19 samples. Countries that have traditionally rivalled one another for economic opportunities in Africa are now combining efforts to tame the spread of Covid-19. PHOTO | AFP


Countries that have traditionally rivalled one another for economic opportunities in Africa are now combining efforts to tame the spread of Covid-19 and its future impact on the world.

The revelations emerged last week after Brics, a bloc that comprises of India, China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa, announced joint scientific ventures aimed at taming the evolution of Covid-19.

Under the arrangement, a group of scientists from India, China, Russia and Brazil are teaming up to carry out genomic sequencing of the coronavirus as well as to carry out extensive research on epidemiology and mathematical modelling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An official statement from Brics (an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) said combined genome sequencing efforts are required for the identification of genetic mutations and recombinations of the virus, epidemiological studies to help assess its distribution while mathematical modelling is vital to project its future spread.

"Keeping this in mind, a research plan has been made by including expertise of scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds," the official statement said.

Common platform


“The study will provide a common platform to share and analyse the data of four different countries and understand the spread routes and transmission dynamics of virus,” Brics further explained.

The  consortium of experts consists  of Ch Sasikala, a professor at the Centre for Environment, Institute of Science and Technology at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in  Hyderabad, India; Yuhua Xin, professoriate senior engineer at the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China; Ivan Sobolev who is a senior researcher at the  Federal Research Centre of Fundamental and Translational Medicine in Timakova, Russia; Dr Marilda Mendonca Siqueira from Respiratory Viruses and Measles Laboratory, Oswaldo Cruz Institute, Fiocruz, Rio de Janeiro.

According to the department of science and technology, Brazil will carry out different arms of the Brics-Multilateral Research and Development Project.

Officials say that the Indian and Brazilian sides will assess the distribution of SARS-CoV-2 in environmental samples through metagenome analysis for wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) surveillance.

SARS-CoV-2 real-time PCR detection

The Chinese and Russian scientists will carry out the real-time PCR detection of SARS-CoV-2 in biological material (nasopharyngeal swabs) from patients with symptoms of respiratory diseases and investigate the genomic variability, comparative genomics and phylogenetic analysis.

"The genomic, metagenomics and epidemiological data from India, China, Russia and Brazil will be integrated to develop mathematical models for mutations analysis, population genetics, phylogenetic relationship, recombination analysis and risk evaluation to reveal spread network and dynamics of the virus.”

The project seeks to address an enduring problem throughout the pandemic.

Despite the rush to produce vaccines, countries are still grappling with new variants of the virus, which have made it harder to control Covid-19. Genomic sequencing will help trace spread routes and dynamics of the virus.

“The database developed by the different groups will also compare the distribution and survival of the virus in the different regions and establish the surveillance of the relevant early warning systems," the official statement said.

Strengths of collaborators

Brics adds that the collaborative research plan has been developed considering the strengths of international collaborators from the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences of China; Federal Research Centre of Fundamental and Translational Medicine of Russia and Respiratory Virus and Measles Laboratory, Oswaldo Cruz Institute of Brazil.

“I have always regarded science as akin to mathematics, that there is a right and a wrong answer,” a scientist in Nairobi told, choosing to be anonymous as he works for one of the agencies involved.

If scientists pool a common finding, it can help the countries collaborate on a lasting solution, he said.

“We have reached a moment of reckoning and hopefully, in a deeply fractured world geopolitically speaking, scientists and virologists and genomic experts will show the world that we can work together as we search for the real truth and not necessarily what the party is telling us to spin,” said the scientist.