SUDBURY -- Canadore College is part of an Ontario-wide coalition that is sequencing and characterizing coronavirus strains that are affecting people in the province.

The world-leading research team, ONCoV Genomics Coalition was brought together by Ontario Genomics, an organization funded by the Ontario government. Canadore, through its genomics lab, is the only college in the coalition.

“The genomics lab and the functional genomics and clinical consultation program has been working to train post-graduate students from colleges and universities about how to conduct and analyze the triple gene qPCR test for COVID-19, and how to perform sequencing on the viral genomes as part of the curriculum,” David Villeneuve, coordinator of Canadore’s genomics lab, said in a news release Tuesday.

“This provides tremendous learning opportunities for the students and provides the community with specially trained graduates who can assist in the battle against the pandemic,” said Tara McGoey, coordinator of Canadore’s biotechnology and functional genomics and clinical consultation programs.

Sequencing the viral genomes allows the Ontario government to not only detect the variants of concern, but also to determine the potential point of origin of the virus as it enters a community. The college lab will have the opportunity to sequence samples to support province-wide efforts. Students in the program will have a chance to gain vital experience on a real-world project.

“It’s a rewarding feeling and a very big privilege to be able to work closely to address COVID-19 and still be a student,” Tyler Lawless, a graduate of Canadore’s biotechnology program, and currently enrolled in the functional genomics and clinical consultation program, said in the release.

Villeneuve said the lab will be sequencing positive COVID patient samples from northern Ontario.

Genomic analysis

“The results of such sequencing would support the work of partners who are experts in genomic analysis to determine if there are any variants of concern circulating in our communities,” he said.

“There is also an initiative to sequence the positive patients, as well as to find out if there’s a particularly deadly combination of human genes and viral genes that make people more sensitive to that viral infection.”

Canadore’s participation in the ONCoV Genomics Coalition provides tremendous exposure to the college and its partners for the investment in the genomics lab, said Letitia Nadalin Penno, Canadore’s dean of environmental studies and health sciences.

“It establishes Canadore as an innovative and capable northern Ontario partner in the fight against COVID-19 and provides an incredible platform for the training and recruitment of current and future students interested in this field," Nadalin Penno said. “It links Canadore College to some of the most significant research-based organizations in southern Ontario.”

“It is phenomenal to see such quick capacity building at Canadore College to support our province-wide efforts for increased sequencing to identify COVID-19 variants of concern,” said Bettina Hamelin, president and CEO of Ontario Genomics. “These training opportunities are essential for a sustainable pandemic response that reaches all parts of Ontario. Colleges like Canadore have a real opportunity to become the biotech training hubs we need right now and for decades to come.”

The project is in full swing in southern Ontario, while capabilities are just beginning to ramp up in the north.

Canadore College expects to be at full capability before the end of this semester.