PCR TESTING & GENOMIC SEQUENCING
PCR testing has emerged as one of the key worldwide measures in diagnosing COVID-19. However, a recent tweet made by the CDC has many people expressing their concerns about PCR tests ‘collecting’ their DNA.
Last Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a tweet, stating that there is a 10% chance that PCR swabs may have been sent out to scientists around the globe, for ‘genomic sequencing.’ This is a process used to analyse the genetic makeup of viruses.
Remember that #COVID19 nose swab test you took? What happened to the swab? If it was processed with a PCR test, there’s a 10% chance that it ended up in a lab for genomic sequencing analysis. Learn more about the process and its importance: https://t.co/XAHSGANLxu @WIRED @CDC_AMD
— CDC (@CDCgov) February 16, 2022
PCR testing has made its mark during the height of the COVID-19 outbreaks, and is currently regarded as the “gold standard” of detecting the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus.
However, this tweet from the CDC has people questioning whether their DNA is being obtained non-consensually in the use of ‘genomic sequencing,’ and if there are legitimate privacy concerns to be raised.
One individual took to twitter, stating “Right from the CDC itself. Did you consent to having your personal data, your genetic material, being sold off for genomic sequencing? Were you compensated? Will anyone care?”
Right from the CDC itself. Did you consent to having your personal data, your genetic material, being sold off for genomic sequencing? Were you compensated?
Will anyone care? https://t.co/gqMcMtj3I9
— Crankier than ever. Constitutional supremacist. (@MadLadMarcin) February 16, 2022
Another twitter user said “This is so f*cked up! This is the exact reason I never have submitted to a #COVD test. They are literally taking your DNA illegally & putting it in a private secret database. No informed consent, total medical tyranny! Where is congress???”
This is so f*cked up! This is the exact reason I never have submitted to a #COVD test. They are literally taking your DNA illegally & putting it in a private secret database. No informed consent, total medical tyranny! Where is congress??? https://t.co/pcuRbH2EQZ
— Jared Tate ©️ (@jaredctate) February 17, 2022
WHAT IS GENOMIC SEQUENCING?
Professor of Tropical Infectious Diseases at Curtin University John Mackenzie says that there is no conspiracy involved in PCR testing, and genomic sequencing has no association with ‘collecting’ human DNA.
“[a] PCR test is carried out to detect a virus, such as COVID-19, by copying part of the virus genome – there is no human DNA involved – it is only [the] virus genome.” Sometimes, the PCR-generated material is then used as the basis for undertaking genomic sequencing.
“[Genome sequencing] is a very important way to investigate the possible occurrence of new variants of a virus or other organism, and of tracing the movement of the virus or organism in the community,” Mackenzie says.
Whether privacy is put at risk depends on the information provided from one lab to another. And although human DNA is obviously a by-product of these tests – as there will be remnants of DNA on the swab – there is no need to test human DNA in virus genome sequencing.
“PCRs of human DNA are undertaken by different laboratories – usually by medical genetics laboratories trying to determine the possible genetic cause of diseases, (eg, various cancers etc),” Mackenzie says.
“So human DNA is used for disease diagnoses, but genetic disease rather than a disease caused by an invading organism, such as a virus.”
Mackenzie further stated that during these genomic sequences, personal information is almost always removed (making the sample anonymous) for privacy and ethical reasons. Saying “There are stringent ethical and privacy requirements over the use of human material obtained for diagnostic reasons.”
“The person donating the material must give their permission, and there are exceptionally rigid rules that have to be obeyed, and no work can be done without application to a human medical ethics committee, and for permission to be granted, the researchers have to explain exactly why and how they propose to undertake the study and ensure the privacy of the patient”
Currently, there are not many labs that actually have the capacity to even administer genomic sequencing, according to Mackenzie. “Not all labs that do PCR testing can also do sequencing, at least not in the numbers needed for good epidemiological analyses.”
Ultimately, genomic sequencing is a crucial technique in detecting new variants of a virus or organism, so that we can be prepared for the possibility of new strains, such as Delta and Omicron.