Here’s how scientists are tracking the genetic evolution of COVID-19

Published in The Conversation, 2020

Recommended citation: Moshiri N (2020). "Here’s how scientists are tracking the genetic evolution of COVID-19." The Conversation.

When you hear the term “evolutionary tree,” you may think of Charles Darwin and the study of the relationships between different species over the span of millions of years.

While the concept of an “evolutionary tree” originated in Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” one can apply this concept to anything that evolves, including viruses. Scientists can study the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 to learn more about how the genes of the virus function. It is also useful to make inferences about the spread of the virus around the world, and what type of vaccine may be most effective.

I am a bioinformatician who studies the relationships between epidemics and viral evolution, and I am among the many researchers now studying the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 because it can help researchers and public health officials track the spread of the virus over time. What we are finding is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be mutating more slowly than the seasonal flu which may allow scientists to develop a vaccine.