The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub announced on Thursday it will provide free genome sequencing of positive coronavirus lab samples to all 58 public health departments in California.
By tracing genetic mutations in the virus, scientists can better understand where and how it’s spreading.
"This leaves a little bread-crumb-like trail that allows us to track the lineage of the virus," said UCSF biochemist and CZ Biohub co-President Joe DeRisi.
He says the SARS-CoV-2 genome makes small random mutations about every two or three times the virus is transmitted. Genomic epidemiologists can then follow the trail to investigate outbreaks at prisons, nursing homes, factories and other places where groups of people are in close contact. For example, if two nursing homes both have cases, examining the viral genomes of infected patients could reveal two distinct strains or ones that share similar mutations.
"That would suggest that either there's been some patient transfer between the facilities or there might be a staff member is going back and forth between the facility," DeRisi said.
"Using genome sequencing, researchers can create viral family trees to track how the virus is spreading to help inform policy decisions," Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founders Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.
CZ Biohub has already sequenced more than 1,600 coronavirus genomes before announcing plans to offer the service statewide. The nonprofit research collaborative says it will make the SARS-CoV-2 sequences public for the scientific community.
– Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)