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The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus emerged in December 2019 as a novel human pathogen causing a severe acute respiratory syndrome (COVID-19). The disease spread rapidly worldwide and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.
Genome sequencing of thousands of viral samples has helped researchers study mechanisms of infection, transmission and response of the human immune system. Since the beginning of SARS-CoV-2 circulation in humans, the viral genome has been accummulating mutations. Compared to other RNA viruses its mutation rate is low, but enough variants are known to determine how samples cluster into groups and how they are related (see COVID-19 transmission map).
We at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute are responding to the urgency of supporting biomedical research aimed at developing treatments and a vaccine for this devastating illness by fast-tracking visualization of genome sequences and analyses in the UCSC Genome Browser for SARS-Cov-2. Moreover, we are incorporating relevant biomedical datasets such as single-cell lung gene expression into the UCSC Cell Browser, and are creating data tracks of COVID-19 annotations in our Human Genome Browsers as datasets become publicly available. These annotations can further understanding of the human genetic determinants of infection susceptibility, disease severity, and outcomes.
A manuscript describing The UCSC SARS-CoV-2 Genome Browser, was published in the September 9 issue of Nature Genetics.
In addition to the Genome Browser, we offer a web interface to Ultrafast Sample placement on Existing tRees (UShER) (Turakhia et al.), a tool for identifying the relationships among a user's newly sequenced viral genomes and all known SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes. UShER identifies relationships between viral genomes by adding them to an existing phylogenetic tree of similar sequences that visually depicts the evolutionary relationships among the genome sequences. This approach empowers "genomic contact tracing". That is, UShER tells you whether virus genomes are closely related and therefore possibly from the same source, or if they are distantly related and the infections come from distinct sources. When newly sequenced virus genomes are added to a comprehensive tree of previously sequenced genomes, contact tracers are often able to determine where in the world those genomes came from. UShER is the only available method that can do this in "real time". Our tool places genomes onto a comprehensive global phylogeny of more than 80,000 virus genomes in less than one second.
The UCSC Genome Browser is a publicly available web resource serving the research community since July 2000. Both the Genome Browser and UCSC Cell Browser are funded by the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute. In addition to this funding, the COVID-19 projects here are funded by generous supporters including: several anonymous donors; Pat and Roland Rebele; Eric and Wendy Schmidt by recommendation of the Schmidt Futures program; the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS); and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP). To contribute, click here.