On 23 March 2020, BDI researchers helped launch a rapid, national effort to generate critical genetic knowledge of how coronavirus spreads and behaves. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium was established to conduct large-scale, rapid whole-genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, for Public Health Agencies, the NHS and the UK government. A year on, COG-UK now comprises over 600 contributors, drawn from 16 academic partners, 4 public health agencies and approximately 60 collaborating organisations. Together, they have achieved some extraordinary milestones over the past twelve months:
- Over 360,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced in total, including 28,695 in one week alone
- Sequenced over 1500 genomes within the first month of the pandemic (during the West African Ebola outbreak, around 1500 virus genomes were sequenced over two years)
- Published 35 studies
- Produced 15 reports for the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)
- Been awarded over £30 million in funding
- Set up around 30 international collaborations
Data from the consortium has helped the UK government understand the patterns of coronavirus spread in the UK, allowing different interventions to be focused in particular areas to control the spread of the virus. For instance, work by COG-UK has:
- provided data on viral transmission and introduction in care homes, universities, hospitals and through international travel;
- enabled the tracking and analysis of viral variants;
- developed freely available bioinformatics and data sharing tools. This includes an openly-available interactive map published online.
Professor Sharon Peacock, Executive Director and Chair of COG-UK said: ‘As a consortium, these achievements (and many more besides) have been met while juggling countless Zoom meetings, home-schooling, and support of family members amidst the ongoing lockdowns and restrictions. We thank all within the consortium for your outstanding dedication, commitment and support throughout the past year that has made COG-UK and its achievements possible.’
Professor David Aanensen, Director of the Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance at the University of Oxford Big Data Institute, said: 'Working with groups across the country has enabled a truly decentralised sequencing effort combined with effective collaborative analysis using cloud-based compute. This has meant we have been able to ramp up sequencing and delivery of analysis to an unprecedented level to aid understanding of the dynamics of the pandemic.'
For more information about COG-UK, visit https://www.cogconsortium.uk/