LONDON — On March 4, 2020, when there were just 84 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.K., professor Sharon Peacock recognized that the country needed to expand its capacity to analyze the genetic makeup of the virus. The Cambridge University microbiologist understood that genomic sequencing would be crucial in tracking the disease, controlling outbreaks, and developing vaccines. So she began working with colleagues around the country to put together a plan. Within a month, the government had provided 20 million pounds ($28 million) to fund their work.
Eric Topol, chair of innovative medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego, California. Genomic sequencing is essentially the process of mapping the unique genetic makeup of individual organisms — in this case, the virus that causes COVID-19. While researchers use the technique to study everything from cancer to outbreaks of food poisoning and the flu virus, this is the first time authorities are using it to provide real-time surveillance of a global pandemic.