COVID-19 ISO Insights

How is Genomics Being Used to Contain Coronavirus Spread?

March 23, 2020

By: David Geller, CPCU

In lieu of a COVID-19 vaccine that, according to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will take “at least a year and a half” to be ready for use, other efforts are reportedly being made to contain the spread of coronavirus.

One of these efforts, according to MIT Technology Review, involves an open-source effort on a website called Nextstrain, which seeks to “harness the scientific and public health potential of pathogen genome data.” The article notes that “the is the first outbreak in which a germ’s evolution and spread have been tracked in so much detail, and almost in real time.”

Proven benefits arising from the use of this open-source website reportedly has included:

  • An indication of which countries have faced multiple introductions of the virus. This could be helpful as a virus mutates when it spreads, according to Technology Review.
  • In Brazil, researchers were reportedly able to use gene data to reveal that its first case was not very closely related to a second one found later, thus indicating they were acquired in different locations.
  • Additionally, the website also allowed researchers to double check containment efforts being made. For example, per the article, researchers erroneously thought that an outbreak in Munich this past January was successfully contained. Their misevaluation was discovered through the discovery of infections in Mexico, Finland, Scotland, Italy, and Brazil appearing genetically similar to the Munich cluster.

Ultimately, per the article, the hope is that this open-source effort can allow scientists to pinpoint how the infection is hopping between countries and optimize containment efforts.