Beth Blane is the Logistics Manager for COG-UK, working within the Operations Team to ensure SARS-CoV-2 samples are successfully transported and sequenced across the whole COG-UK network. COVID-19 has completely changed Beth’s normal role, and while this has undoubtedly presented several challenges, it has given her the exciting opportunity to contribute to the pandemic response.
Tell us about your role at COG-UK
I help coordinate the movement of positive SARS-CoV-2 samples from diagnostic labs in the UK, to one of 16 COG-UK sequencing centres. The aim is to try to get every positive sample received from the labs sequenced. The logistics team links up diagnostic labs to their nearest sequencing centre, provides a courier if needed, and communicates with both sites regularly to assist with any problems that arise. I also assist with several national studies, to ensure that their samples get sequenced.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
A typical day usually includes several Zoom meetings, responding to queries from diagnostic laboratories and COG-UK centres, updating maps and databases that track the movement of positive samples within the network, and lots of coffee!
How has the pandemic affected your work?
My work has completely changed during the pandemic. I’m a Research Assistant in the Peacock Group at the University of Cambridge, based in Addenbrooke’s Hospital. My normal role is laboratory based, working on studies on detection and sequencing of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria. I am normally also involved in face-to-face and online teaching of AMR techniques. Multiple studies have had to be put on hold, though I am hoping that there will be more time to start looking at these again in the coming months.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your time within the consortium so far?
The long hours and having to cancel Christmas leave in response to new variants has been challenging. At each peak of the pandemic there were back-to-back meetings, making it very difficult to complete the work that was needed to be done within normal working hours. I work with an amazing team though, and we support each other through the tougher days.
What is your proudest accomplishment from your time at COG-UK?
Working with the team to understand the complexity of the diagnostic laboratory network in the UK, and succeed in linking up those laboratories with the COG-UK sequencing sites to ensure that as many positive samples can be sequenced as possible. This has not always been easy, as laboratories have understandably been very busy during the pandemic.
What do you like most about your job?
The satisfaction of working with so many people across the UK to contribute to the pandemic response. People from a variety of backgrounds have taken on work they would not normally do, worked long hours, and worked together in stressful circumstances. I am proud to have been a small part of that.
Why did you become a scientist?
My mum was a scientist and my dad was an artist. While I have very little artistic ability, I did inherit from both a strong curiosity, wanting to know the how and why about the world. Science and Maths were my favourite subjects at school, and I later began my scientific career in a clinical microbiology laboratory. Science can contribute so much to our understanding of the world, and to the health and wellbeing of current and future generations. Now I couldn’t imagine working in any other field.
About our Meet the Researcher series
Hundreds of people in the COG-UK consortium have been working tirelessly behind the scenes throughout the pandemic. Many have had to sacrifice their Christmas holidays, put other projects on hold, and work long hours to help ensure the consortium functions as it should. In this blog series, we meet just a few of the countless people whose dedication, commitment and hard work has been essential to the success of COG-UK.
COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)
The current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium has been created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government.
Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and academic partners providing sequencing and analysis capacity. A full list of collaborators can be found here. Professor Peacock is also on a part-time secondment to PHE as Director of Science, where she focuses on the development of pathogen sequencing through COG-UK.
COG-UK was established in April 2020 supported by £20 million funding from the COVID-19 rapid-research-response “fighting fund” from Her Majesty’s Treasury (established by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance), and administered by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The consortium was also backed by the Department of Health and Social Care’s Testing Innovation Fund on 16 November 2020 to facilitate the genome sequencing capacity needed to meet the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the UK over the winter period.