Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory determines local spread of COVID-19 variants

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(Illustration by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Kansas State has its own capabilities to perform genomic sequencing on COVID-19 samples to determine if variants are spreading locally.

Dr. Kyle Goerl, Lafene Health Center medical director, said the more time the virus runs unopposed, the more chances it has to mutate.

“All viruses mutate with time — that’s not unexpected in the least,” Goerl said. “COVID — SARS-CoV-2 — is doing the exact same thing.”

Goerl said continued rapid spread of the virus causes variants to continue to pop up, which is why vaccine efforts are even more important.

“Truth is, so long as there’s kind of rapid spread of the virus, variants are going to continue to crop up,” Goerl said. “That makes it even more important to continue to ramp up vaccine capacities.”

The most common variants are the U.K. B.1.1.7, the South African B.1.351 and the Brazilian B.1.1.28.

“The reason why [Lafene] cares a lot about these three, in particular, is what they’re doing in terms of transmissibility,” Goerl said. “All of these three have been shown to increase the ability for the virus to be transmitted from one person to the other.”

Dr. Rachel Palinski, clinical assistant professor, is the lead on genomic sequencing for the VDL.

“Samples are collected at Lafene and then raw samples come to our lab for [preliminary chain reaction] testing,” Palinski said. “Once those samples test positive, we have certain thresholds that we have to meet before they’re eligible to be sequenced.”

However, once the samples reach that threshold, the nucleic acid is sent to VDL. From there, protocols are approved for full genome sequencing.

“We run through a secondary PCR for amplification, then they go directly to sequencing,” Palinski said.

The entire process takes 10 to 12 business days depending on the number of samples in a batch.

“From the time that [the samples] get to us, the actual hand-on time before they go into the sequencer, is between two to four days, and then sequencing takes about a day,” Palinski said. “Then data analysis will take anywhere from two to four days.”

These variants are a reason for concern because they modify the spike protein, and that is how the virus gets into our cell, Goerl said.

There are about 2,500 cases of the U.K. variant found in the United States. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment identified eight new cases of the variant in Sedgwick County on Monday, bringing the total to 10 in Kansas.

The two initial cases are possibly from exposure through separate, out-of-state travel, according to the KDHE.

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My name is Sean Schaper, and I'm the news editor for the Collegian. I’m a junior in journalism with a secondary focus in film studies. I grew up right outside of Kansas City in Leawood, Kansas. As a first-generation K-Stater, I look forward to leaving behind accurate coverage for the current and future Wildcat community.