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Media Opportunity: Dalhousie University scientist tracking SARS‑CoV‑2 variants through genome sequencing ‑‑ a critical piece of the pandemic puzzle and key to detecting the virus’s transmission, evolution and spread

Posted by Communications and Marketing on February 10, 2021 in News

Scientists around the world are closely monitoring the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 in a bid to better track and understand the impact of new mutations on the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is being done through genome sequencing, a method that gives the precise genetic fingerprint of the virus that infected a person or animal. By comparing the fingerprint to the genomes of other SARS-CoV-2 viruses, researchers can investigate how quickly the virus is spreading, where a specific outbreak most likely originated, and how the virus changes over time -- data that can inform public health interventions, such as travel restrictions and changes to screening policies to control outbreaks at hospitals or long-term care facilities.

With many variants spreading internationally, sequencing is of critical importance because it can determine how and where the virus has changed, the impacts of those changes and whether vaccines need updating.

Finlay Maguire, a data scientist at Dalhousie University and the Faculty of Computer Science’s Donald Hill Family Fellow, is playing a key role in this both nationally via the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) and Ontario's COVID-19 Genomics Rapid Response Coalition (ONCoV), and internationally via the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation-funded Public Health Alliance for Genomic Epidemiology (PHA4GE).

Dr. Maguire developed one of the main workflows being used by the National Microbiology Lab to analyze these genomes, is actively analyzing mutations in a large subset of Ontario genomes as they are sequenced and created a continually updated evolutionary analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada. Along with colleagues, he has also developed standards for how metadata should be collected and organized, which are being used in national SARS-CoV-2 sequencing efforts in Canada, Australia, the U.S. and South Africa.

Dr. Maguire is available to discuss how the rapid sharing of SARS-CoV-2 data has allowed scientists to monitor how the virus evolves worldwide essentially in real-time, which has not been possible before on this scale.

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Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Dalhousie University
Cell: 902-220-0491


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