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Scientists Track Genetic Changes of Coronavirus

photo of swab test

March 25, 2020 -- British genetic experts are keeping an eye out for possible changes to the genetic code of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The COVID-19 UK Genomics Consortium – a group of government and university scientists – will work together to map the spread of COVID-19. Through a process called "whole genome sequencing," they'll check to see if any new strains of the virus emerge.

The consortium will gather lab test samples from people with COVID-19 and send them to sequencing centers at more than a dozen universities around the UK. Experts there will analyze the genetic makeup of the virus in the samples.

Experts hope they can get insight into how the virus is mutating, or changing. Prof. Paul Klenerman, University of Oxford, says in a news release that the mutations are like fingerprints that may help scientists identify clusters of related COVID-19 cases. The information will help experts learn more about how the disease is spreading and develop strategies to control the pandemic.

Scientists working at the consortium also say the analysis may help them understand how the virus might adapt ways to get around the human immune system – the body's defense against germs. Klenerman says learning more about this process can be a huge help in developing a vaccine against COVID-19.