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Covington-based Gravity Diagnostics explains how it tracks coronavirus variants

Gravity Diagnostics, located in Covington, had its best month in
Posted at 8:06 PM, Sep 21, 2021

COVINGTON, Ky. — With the surge of coronavirus cases, some people question how anyone knows if they contracted the delta variant of the infection for sure.

Gravity Diagnostics in Covington is at the forefront of answering that question.

"We're seeing about 10,000 samples a day now," said William Teal, a scientist at Gravity Diagnostics.

Out of those thousands of samples, Teal and his team are discovering about a thousand positive tests a day and then further testing about 800 a week to determine which variant is in Greater Cincinnati and looking for changes in the coronavirus.

"What is this and is it different from what we've seen before?" Teal said.

Ryan Walker, director of research development at Gravity Diagnostics, said determining variants in the coronavirus is a multi-stage process.

"Here is an example of a sample that would be positive," Walker said during a recent tour of the facility located at the corner of Russel and West 8th streets in Covington.

There are multiple lines on the screen he points to that indicate both the control and the presence of the COVID virus.

Walker said a machine pulls positive samples from a tray that are then put into a $500,000 machine that determines what coronavirus variant is in them. The device looks at thousands and thousands of features to determine if a particular coronavirus is the delta variant or not.

"Delta has, I think, about 29 known differences" than the baseline virus, Teal said.

If there are significantly more differences than what scientists are aware of, it could indicate a new coronavirus variant.

"Three hundred eighty-four samples, 372 of them were delta, and that's the most I've seen of a variant taking over," Teal said.

Other variants popping up positively include some alpha and MU variants.

MU is a new variant of the virus. Still, for Gravity Diagnostics' own genome sequencing, it has been a blip on the map in Greater Cincinnati compared to the one-time dominant alpha, or UK variant, and the now more widely seen delta variant.

"It's obviously stronger," Teal said of the delta variant. "It's spreading faster. It's infecting people who are vaccinated. It's infecting younger adults, and that's why really it's worth tracking."

As far as new emerging variants are concerned, Gravity Diagnostics does not determine if a new variant is emerging in the region. Instead, the lab takes its sequenced positive samples and submits those to both national and international databases.

Groups such as the World Health Organization and others then take a closer look to determine if the coronavirus is indeed changing once again.

More importantly, the team at Gravity is tracing the lineage to ultimately determine the origin of the virus.

The lab is already working to expand its ability to perform genome sequencing with the addition of another sequencing machine to further advance its findings and the science behind tracking the virus.