Bioinformatics is an inherently interdisciplinary effort, combining the molecular biology revolution heralded by pioneers like Watson and Crick with advances in computer science that have placed previously unimaginable abilities at our fingertips. Reflecting the collaborative nature of bioinformatics, my colleagues and I at the A*STAR Bioinformatics Institute (BII) study everything from sequence analysis to image processing, working with academic, clinical and industry partners alike.
Nowhere has the synergistic power of bioinformatics been made more clear, however, than during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where over 15 million people have been infected and over half a million have sadly lost their lives in the first six months of the pandemic. Amid the uncertainty and upheaval, bioinformaticians have been at the forefront of supporting the development of urgently needed diagnostics and drug repurposing, as well as behind the scenes carefully monitoring the virus genome for potentially dangerous mutations and tracing the virus evolution to study and help curb transmission.
From sequence to test kit
We first heard reports of an unusual viral pneumonia spreading in Wuhan in late December 2019. In the field of infectious diseases, this is usually not a cause for concern; experts are always on the lookout for ‘the next big one’ but most of the time, it turns out to be nothing. This one, however, did progress further and by the second week of January, the world was informed by authorities in China that it was caused by a coronavirus, the same family of viruses that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). We immediately sat up and took notice, and were soon called up by our colleagues from the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) to take action.
Originally designed to rapidly disseminate information about influenza viruses, GISAID