The Vice President of India, M Venkaiah Naidu today called for fast-tracking of genome sequencing of new COVID-19 variants to speed up finding suitable vaccines and drugs.The Vice President visited CCMB’s LaCONES (Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species) facility soon after his arrival in Hyderabad. He witnessed a presentation by Scientist-in-charge of LaCONES, Dr. Karthikeyan Vasudevan and visited National Wildlife Genetic Resource Bank, Assisted Reproduction Lab and animal cages at the facility.Addressing scientists and research scholars, Shri Naidu observed that sequencing, as an adjunctive tool, plays a critical role in identifying the emergence of new viral mutations and thus helps combat the spread of Covid-19. It would also help in timely interventions, he added.Stating that the need for genome sequencing of new variants becomes crucial in the light of reports of big cats contracting COVID-19 in a few zoos in the country, Shri Naidu pointed out species jump of a virus—from humans to animals or vice versa—could lead to new variants and pose fresh challenges in the ongoing fight against the pandemic.The Vice President also stressed the need for strengthening international collaborations by research institutions to study the feasibility of developing a universal vaccine that could neutralize various SARS-CoV-2 variants.Appealing to the people to shed vaccine hesitancy, Shri Naidu reiterated that vaccines made in India are safe and effective and everyone should get vaccinated and encourage others to do so too. He called for cultural and sporting icons to become active partners in the drive and motivate people to go for vaccination. “Vaccination drive should become a national movement”, he stressed.
Complimenting CCMB for its contribution to the cause of COVID-19 mitigation, Shri Naidu referred to the need for strong collaborative arrangements between institutions and added that LaCONES-CCMB, was rightly positioned to make linkages at both national and international levels, to understand the emergence of infectious diseases and prevent such pandemics in the future.He also observed that LaCONES has recently released guidelines in collaboration with the Central Zoo Authority and Ministry of Forestry, Environment and Climate Change for the zoo frontline workers on COVID-19 investigation for captive animals.Pointing out that the easy transmissibility of Coronavirus poses many challenges, he said the way in which it might infect new hosts or other species will be an important area of research. “This is where CCMB can take a lead and shed some valuable light”, he added.Lauding LaCONES for having developed several biotechnology tools for wildlife conservation, including those for assisted reproduction and forensics, the Vice President referred to successful reproduction of blackbuck, spotted deer, rock pigeon and endangered mouse deer and suggested that similar efforts should be extended for Hangul deer in Kashmir, Wild buffalos in Chattisgarh and Red Panda in Darjeeling.He expressed his happiness that the National Wildlife Genetic Resource Bank at LaCONES is one among an exclusive league of 23 such labs in the world.Referring to the activities of LaCONES and the formation of a consortium involving five zoos to promote bio-banking of endangered species, he termed it “a timely initiative”.Touching upon the impact of climate change on all life forms, Shri Naidu pointed out that India has some of the most bio-diverse regions and is home to a wide range of ecosystems. In order to mitigate climate change, the Vice President said that a massive afforestation programme is the need of the hour and that everyone should actively participate in planting trees in their communities and localities. “We not only need to protect and preserve our ecosystems but also make every effort for conservation of endangered species for the well-being of animals, plants and humans”, he added and expressed confidence that the modern bio-technological tools will help in mitigating the adverse effects on wildlife and ecosystems.During the visit, the Vice President released a book ‘An Introduction to Genetic Resource Banks for Wildlife Conservation’. He also interacted with research scholars and inquired about their work.Shri Mahmood Ali, Telangana Home Minister, Dr. Vinay Nandicoori, Director, CCMB, Dr. Karthikeyan Vasudevan, Scientist-in-Charge CCMB-LaCONES, R. Shobha, Chief Wildlife Warden Telangana, scientists and research scholars were present during the event.