Twice each day, SUNY Downstate School of Public Health evolutionary epidemiologist Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, Ph.D., joins a global group of scientists in reviewing a worldwide database of the latest genomic information about the Wuhan strain of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that so far has infected more than 28,000 people, including more than 250 outside of China, and resulted in at least 560 deaths. By comparison, 349 people died in China during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003.
Dr. Kolokotronis is one of 6 researchers at 5 different institutions that have formed an international ad-hoc collaboration initiative to uncover clues as to the evolutionary trajectory of this form of coronavirus by untangling the virus' genetic evolution over time and space.
Dr. Kolokotronis likens he and his colleagues to scientific detectives. They look at the genetic profile of the virus as it presents in each patient within the larger context of coronavirus diversity. Other variables that may be considered as the transmission continues are when certain patients began showing symptoms, where they have been, who they have been with, whether it had been transmitted to them by someone else or someone else has contracted it from them, and a host of other clues in an unending effort to uncover important insights.
For instance, we can look at one of the confirmed cases in California and tell you for certain that the virus in that person has mutated very few times since right before it presented in the first patient. Additionally, we can also use this data, and genomic data from other patients and animals, to determine whether the virus jumped from animals to humans, what we call a spillover, or emerged in humans altogether sometime in November or early December, even though the first cases were not reported until later in December. Genomic surveillance, empowered with computational modeling, allows us to do a deep dive into a pathogen's history, evolutionary potential and interactions with its environment. The natural history of pathogen emergence and spread is usually a puzzle, where pieces get put together every day as more data points are generated and analyzed." Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, Ph.D., epidemiologist, SUNY Downstate School of Public Health
Dr. Kolokotronis emphasizes that the group is not looking to develop a treatment, a vaccine, or a cure for Wuhan coronavirus, but rather to put the pieces together for those that will. Related Stories
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