Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mapping the Coronavirus Family Tree

Coronavirus, like all viruses, is a sub-microscopic scrap of genetic code wrapped in a protein and lipid (fat) overcoat. Viruses hijack the cells in our bodies and turn our cells into virus factories to crease more viruses. These new viruses then spread from person to person through human contact.

As coronavirus replicates random mutations occur. This rapid evolution allows viruses to quickly adapt to changes in their host environment. These rapid mutations in a virus' genomes can also help scientists track the spread of the virus and learn more about it is spread.

Nextstrain analyzes and creates visualizations of virus evolutions. Nextstrain's phylogenetic tree of the novel coronavirus (pictured above) shows the evolutionary relationships of hCoV-19 viruses. On the tree mutations in the virus are shown with colored circles. On the interactive Nextstrain virus family tree you can hover over a branch line of coronavirus to see how many mutations that branch has.

The Nextstrain coronavirus interactive map shows where and when the virus has spread around the world and where the different mutations of the virus have been seen. The map includes a date filter which allows you to track the spread of the novel coronavirus over time. The map also includes a 'play' option which allows you to watch this spread from December 2019 until recent days.

The colors of the circles on the map relate to the evolutionary mutation colors used on the family tree. By mapping the different strains of coronavirus it is possible to interpret how the virus was spread. For example if the virus in a region is part of the same cluster or branch on the coronavirus family tree then it is likely that there was one host who introduced the virus to the area. If a region has lots of different clusters then there were lots of different hosts introducing coronavirus to the area, creating lots of small clusters.

1 comment:

Le Vivaliste said...

great way to visualize what seems to be an unprecedented global scientific collaboration over a very short period of time.