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Coronavirus COVID-19

CSIC promotes genomic epidemiology project to predict how new coronavirus will evolve

Friday 3 April 2020

An ambitious scientific project led by researchers from the National Scientific Research Council (Spanish acronym: CSIC) in partnership with 40 hospitals all over Spain will study the compared genomes of the new coronavirus from patients with COVID-19 in order to understand and predict the evolution and epidemiology of the virus. The study also aims to provide information to the public health authorities. The data produced will be stored in public repositories, as well as on the global NextStrain platform (nextstrain.org). The project forms part of the new Inter-disciplinary Thematic Platform on Global Health, which has been launched by the CSIC to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus through research.

Entitled Addressing unknowns of COVID-19 transmission and infection combining pathogen genomics and epidemiology to inform public health interventions, the project has been given a budget of 740,000 euros and combines genomic data with clinical microbiology, epidemiology and phylogenesis. It is being led by the researcher, Iñaki Comas, from the Valencia Institute for Biomedicine (Spanish acronym: IBV-CSIC) together with the researcher, Fernando González Candelas, from the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio) of the CSIC and the University of Valencia, in partnership with the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research (Spanish acronym: FISABIO) of the Regional Government of Valencia.

Iñaki Comas explained that "this project will enable us to use genomic epidemiology as a tool for understanding the course of the epidemic, how it began and how it is evolving over time and space". He also stressed that "this research also poses the challenge of producing results capable of helping to report to the public health authorities".

In turn, Fernando González Candelas, a professor at the University of Valencia and a researcher at I2SysBio and FISABIO, underlined the geographic scale of the project as it covers hospitals all over Spain. He went on to add that "although people are being affected by COVID-19 everywhere, the reality is that each region is at a different stage of the epidemic and the medium-term solutions must therefore be different".

The data produced will be stored in public repositories, as well as on the global NextStrain platform, of which a Spanish section has been created (nextspain.uv.es) that is already adding data on Spanish sequences. The platform uses extremely powerful display tools to enable evolution of the virus to be followed in space and time.

The two lead researchers on this project, specialists in genomic epidemiology, highlight the power of combining data from several different disciplines within genetics and epidemiology. "Genomic epidemiology will do for infectious diseases in the 21st Century what vaccines did in the 19th Century and antibiotics in the 20th Century", said Iñaki Comas.

Together with another 11 projects, this project has been funded by the Inter-disciplinary Thematic Platform on Global Health of the CSIC. Over 150 research groups work together on this platform and it is supported by the MAPFRE Foundation.

Jesús Marco, Vice-President of Scientific and Technical Research of the CSIC, stressed that "one of the key features of this Inter-disciplinary Thematic Platform on Global Health is its global overview that enables links to be made between all aspects of the pandemic: origin, prevention, disease, containment measures, treatment, social impact and, finally, the need for communication with society, especially in education".

Promoted from the Office of the Vice-President of Scientific and Technical Research of the CSIC, the platform is coordinated by the researcher from the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (Spanish acronym: CBMSO), Margarita del Val, with support from a committee of experts in the various areas involved.

Non official translation