Using the genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 — previously dubbed 2019-nCoV — researchers can generate synthetic versions of the virus to study how the virus may spread or develop vaccines, though Technology Review notes that the research can raise concerns.
Previously, Tech Review notes that researchers often had to wait months or years to study the virus at the center of an outbreak, but now they can order the virus' genes from a firm that manufactures DNA to recreate it. This ability, it notes, has raised concerns that individuals with nefarious intentions could order the building blocks of smallpox or polio to create a bioweapon, and certain limitations on who can order certain select genes have been put in place. According to Tech Review, because SARS-CoV-2 is similar to the SARS virus from the 2002 outbreak, ordering some of its genes sends up these red flags.
But only a few labs have this capability, it notes. "We are at the point where the best of the best can start to synthesize this new virus contemporaneously with the outbreak. But that is just a few labs," Nicholas Evans from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, tells Tech Review. "Fortunately, we are still far from the point when lots of people can synthesize anything."