BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Health (MoH) on Wednesday received a genome sequencing machine donated by Beijing-based private equity firm IDG Capital, giving the country a shot in the arm in its fight against COVID-19.

The machine, which can sequence up to 96 samples simultaneously and detect COVID-19 mutation variants within two days, will be used at the Clinical Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory for Infectious Disease in Kg Bukit Bendera, Tutong.

Laboratory staff are currently being trained via video conference to use the genetic sequencer, called DNBSEQ-G50. Laboratory Services Director Dr Hjh Surita Hj Mohamad Taib said experts may be flown in to train staff “depending on the COVID-19 situation in the country”.

Once operational, the lab will be able to conduct up to 200 tests per day.

Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) will be extracted from COVID-19 positive samples and used for the genetic sequencing, which Dj Hjh Surita said “is not an easy task”.

“We have to work with the experts in order to sequence the different types of genes for SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Genome sequencing is a laboratory method used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type. It can be used to find changes in different areas of the genome, enabling scientists to understand how specific diseases such as COVID-19 form. Results of genomic sequencing can also be used to diagnose and treat diseases.

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said genome sequencing will allow the ministry to identify “variants of concern or interest”, and in turn guide the government’s response to the pandemic.

Understanding the different types of variants is crucial in the preparation and management of facilities and resources, he said. “The Delta variant … has increased transmissibility and caused more problems, which means we need to use and plan for more resources to mitigate the situation,” he added.

Speaking at a press conference later that day, the health minister said the machine will be tested for quality assurance by comparing the accuracy of test results with those conducted by other labs overseas.

“Once that’s done, only then can we routinely do it [genetic sequencing]. So like I said, it takes time, maybe about a month or so [before we can find out what variants are in Brunei),” he said.

IDG is a strategic investment partner of the Brunei Investment Agency. The contribution from senior partners of IDG is made possible through its close partnership with MGI Tech, the manufacturer of the DNBSEQ-G50 genome sequencer, the Ministry of Finance said in a statement.