How an early-warning radar might stop future pandemics


Enlarge (credit score: Wladimir Bulgar by way of Getty Photos)

On December 18, 2019, Wuhan Central Hospital admitted a affected person with signs widespread for the winter flu season: a 65-year-old man with fever and pneumonia. Ai Fen, director of the emergency division, oversaw a typical therapy plan, together with antibiotics and anti-influenza medication.

Six days later, the affected person was nonetheless sick, and Ai was puzzled, in accordance with information stories and an in depth reconstruction of this era by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey. The respiratory division determined to attempt to establish the responsible pathogen by studying its genetic code, a course of known as sequencing. They rinsed a part of the affected person’s lungs with saline, collected the liquid, and despatched the pattern to a biotech firm. On December 27, the hospital received the outcomes: The person had contracted a brand new coronavirus intently associated to the one which induced the SARS outbreak that started 17 years earlier than.

The unique SARS virus was sequenced 5 months after the primary circumstances had been recorded. One of these conventional sequencing reads the total genetic code, or genome, of only one organism at a time, which first must be fastidiously remoted from a pattern. The researchers employed by Wuhan Central Hospital had been capable of map the brand new virus so shortly utilizing a extra demanding approach known as metagenomic sequencing, which reads the genomes of each organism in a pattern without delay — with out such time-intensive preparation. If the normal method is like finding a single e-book on a shelf and copying it, metagenomic sequencing is like grabbing all the books off the shelf and scanning them unexpectedly.

Learn 29 remaining paragraphs | Feedback