Health Life

At the forefront, behind the scenes

Credit: Freepik

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 genome for potentially dangerous mutations and tracing the 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 , GISAID

Health article

COVID-19 and Animals | CDC

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, infect only animals and do not infect humans.

Risk of animals spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to people

Some coronaviruses that infect animals can be spread to humans and then spread between people, but this is rare. This is what happened with the virus that caused the current outbreak of COVID-19, with the virus likely originating in bats. The first reported infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking. Recent studies show that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.

Risk of people spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to animals

The first US case of an animal testing positive for COVID-19 was a tiger at a NY zoo.

We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations, especially after close contact with a person sick with COVID-19.

For information on how to protect pets from possible infection with SARS-CoV-2, see If You Have Pets.

Animals that can be infected with