How are experts tracking variants of the coronavirus?

Scientists are tracking variants of the coronavirus by scanning virus samples taken from infected people

Scientists are scanning virus samples taken from infected people to look for mutations, through a process called genome sequencing. It’s the same method researchers have been using for years to study bacteria, plants, animals and humans.

Around the world, researchers have sequenced more than 500,000 genomes of the COVID-19 virus to date.

Viruses can mutate as they make copies of themselves after infecting a person. By sequencing virus samples over time, scientists can look for recurring changes in the genome.

“If we don’t know these things, we’re running blind,” said Sara Vetter, assistant lab director for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Countries vary in their genomic surveillance. Britain, for example, sequences about 10% of specimens positive for the coronavirus, compared to less than 1% in the U.S.

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