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Naval Medical Research Center Uses Genome Sequencing for Variants

Image of Military personnel pose for a group photo. FREDERICK, Md. (Oct. 11, 2022) Naval Medical Research personnel with the Biological Defense Research Directorate’s Genomics and Bioinformatics department pose for a group photo. BDRD, located at Fort Detrick, works to advance research and development of therapeutics to protect against biological attacks. The effort is part of the DOD SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Action Plan, which brings together laboratories to conduct whole genome sequencing across the Military Health System in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Editor's note: This is the fifth article in a 6-part series that highlights the work of technicians and scientists in Military Health System laboratories who worked to identify COVID-19 variants using special sequencing technology.

The Naval Medical Research Center's Biological Defense Research Directorate has sequenced over 6,700 samples and provided support to key shipboard and military training populations to identify COVID-19 variants. Specific fleet assets supported with viral genome sequencing by NMRC include the USS Theodore Roosevelt and eight other ships. It also includes military treatment facilities, the fleet, and the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps units, with samples originating within the United States and from four continents.

"Being able to provide detailed information regarding the variants allows for up-to-date information to the fleet and Marine force, as well as other services,” said U.S. Navy Capt. William Deniston, commander of Naval Medical Research Center. "This information helps inform leadership on the most current threats to the armed forces."

The data provided on samples from Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. naval base in Djibouti, Africa, helped provide important information for stakeholders in U.S. Africa Command and the West African region, by providing surveillance of circulating variants in U.S. forces in an under-sampled region. The SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences produced at NMRC were the first published viral sequences from Djibouti and resulted in identification of rare mutations.

Headquartered at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the NMRC-BDRD also played an instrumental role in the COVID-19 outbreak response, coordinating SARS-CoV-2 sample receiving and sharing among labs in the National Capital Region. NMRC’s efforts provided important support for sequencing and viral isolation to the Department of Defense and Military Health System, as well as training to partner laboratories on SARS-CoV-2 protocols and bioinformatics analysis.

"NMRC's BDRD is uniquely qualified to conduct the deep sequencing needed to do this work. The incredible scientists we have at NMRC are the best in the business," stated Deniston.

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Last Updated: January 12, 2023
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