Mar 9, 2020 · 3 min read

IDseq Helps Researchers in Cambodia Confirm the Country’s First Case of COVID-19

Researchers Sequenced the Full SARS-CoV-2 Genome in Days, Made Information Openly Available to Accelerate Efforts to Combat the Coronavirus Outbreak

2020 | This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).| Photograph by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM.
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A partnership between the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation enabled researchers in Cambodia to sequence and confirm the country’s first case of COVID-19 in a matter of days — not the weeks it could typically take. This provided valuable, real-time insight into transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus within the global community.

The researchers in Cambodia are one of several teams around the world receiving molecular biology and bioinformatics training from the infectious disease team at the Biohub​, free access, training, and compute on the IDseq platform from CZI, and the necessary equipment and supplies to begin work in their own countries through the Grand Challenges Explorations Grants

Equipped with training and supplies, the Cambodian researchers were able to proactively assess what was happening locally by prepping and sequencing the full genome of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in-house instead of sending those samples to a lab in another country for processing. Transferring samples can corrupt them and, more importantly, takes extra time — time that is all the more valuable during an outbreak. Quicker sequencing also means quicker sharing of those data so that more researchers can derive value from them, including researchers who don’t have advanced molecular biology and engineering capabilities in their own labs.

In order to make this information accessible to as many scientists as possible, teams uploaded a manuscript summarizing their findings and the impact of in-country sequencing to preprint server bioRxiv. They also launched a public version of IDseq so scientists could study these data. Finally, they uploaded the genome sequence to open source pathogen data repositories, GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data), and Nextstrain, so scientists anywhere can see the full genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and study it within the broader context of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus sequences uploaded globally.

Researchers at the Cambodian National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) partnered with the Institut Pasteur Cambodia to complete this research. 

For more information about how CZI and our grant partners are responding to COVID-19, visit https://chanzuckerberg.com/science/covid-19/.

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About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is a new kind of philanthropy that’s leveraging technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease, to improving education, to reforming the criminal justice system. Across three core Initiative focus areas of Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity, we’re pairing engineering with grant-making, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit www.chanzuckerberg.com.

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