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Arizona scientists working together to stop the spread of coronavirus

(Screenshot of Dr. David Engelthaler)

PHOENIX — Scientists in Arizona are testing genomic patterns of the coronavirus in the hopes that their findings will stop its spread.

By the end of this week, the new Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union hopes to have tested the genomic sequences of coronavirus strains from Arizona’s first 200 cases.

“We know that the virus didn’t just come into Arizona and roll like a tidal wave,” Dr. David Engelthaler, co-director of  TGen North’s micribiome division, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“It’s coming across in spurts and starts in different places.”

Through sharing their resources, Engelthaler said he and his team learned a lot about Arizona’s coronavirus strain — particularly regarding its long path from China.

“This lineage made it to Europe and established a foothold there,” said Dr. Michael Worobey, BIO5 Institute’s department head of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“We’re seeing it not just in Arizona but in Utah and a little bit in Washington state as well.”

The team is also tracking coronavirus mutations.

“Those mutations, right now, we think are mostly neutral,” said TGen researcher Dr. Paul Keim co-director of TGen’s pathogen and microbiome division.

“But they could change the biology in time, and they can certainly change our ability to monitor this outbreak via diagnostic tools and have implications eventually for the efficacy of vaccines.”

Worobey says his team’s genomic tracking could show a necessity for one vaccine or more.

“We’re laying the groundwork now for what, unfortunately, is likely to be years of work in the future,” he said.

Worobey says researchers usually sit on the data for months so they can control it for their own purposes — but not in this case.

(Graph via maricopacounty.gov)

Keim says they will quickly turn over whatever data they get to public health officials, policy leaders and drug makers.

“The last thing we want is for the Chinese government to tell us about what’s happening,” he said. “We want to look at the data and understand it ourselves.”

The Arizona COVID-19 Genomic Union hopes to study 200 sequences every few days.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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