Sequencing SARS-CoV-2 in Zimbabwe

By Teresa Street, Senior Research Scientist

The Team

In October 2023 I travelled to Harare, in Zimbabwe, to teach a team of scientists how to genome sequence SARS-CoV-2 using Oxford Nanopore Technologies sequencing. The team were taking part in a study to observe COVID infections in Zimbabwe and had a collection of over 600 samples they were keen to sequence.

I spent a week at Professor Tariro Makadzange’s Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory (part of the Charles River Medical Group), teaching the team how to prepare samples and analyse data using the Global Pathogen Analysis Service (GPAS).

Hard at work preparing samples for sequencing
Celebrating starting the first SARS-CoV-2 sequencing run

I’m so grateful I got to experience scientific research outside the UK, and I couldn’t have spent the week with a friendlier, more welcoming group of people. My time in Harare also really made me appreciate the facilities we have and the things we take for granted. We don’t have thunder and lightning storms so powerful they regularly knock out our power for hours at a time; nor do we have labs that leak under the sheer volume of rain that falls. We also take our superfast Wi-Fi for granted: trying to download software and upload data at 2Mb/sec is frustrating, to say the least!

The lab (in what used to be a peanut butter factory!)

This collaboration would have seriously struggled to achieve all it did in such a short space of time without the help of Bede Constantinides. He made himself available from back home for the whole week to hold our hands through setting up the computing and guiding us through the analysis, so that I could leave the team fully self-sufficient for all their future work.

I’m pleased to report the team have now finished sequencing their 600+ sample collection and are now using ONT sequencing for other studies.

Zimbabwe is an incredible country with fantastic people, and I really hope I have the opportunity to visit again one day!

Imire Lodge Rhino and Wildlife Conservation Reserve