Vaughn Cooper ’94, an evolutionary microbiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke with The Washington Post’s Bob Costa on Oct. 19 about the Cooper Lab’s use of cutting-edge technology to track genetic changes in the coronavirus in order to trace and control the virus’s spread.
After gene sequencing, “we have a complete record of all 29,000 sort of nucleotides or letters in the RNA alphabet of the coronavirus genome. And then we can compare that sequence first with the original isolate that was sequenced in Wuhan, China, but we can also compare that sequence with literally every other sequence ever decoded on the planet,” Cooper explained. “And in the context of, say, contact tracing, what it allows you to do is determine whether the virus that you're looking at came from a close relative or perhaps came from sort of general community spread.”
The extensive interview also includes, among other details, Cooper’s commentary on the lack of coordination in the United States’ federal response to COVID-19; comparison of U.S. gene-sequencing progress to that in Australia and other nations; and explanation of the importance of gene sequencing in developing a vaccine and adjusting it in the future, as the virus evolves.