One of the researchers who called the world's attention to the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 tells the Associated Press that the identification of the variant was enabled by scientific sharing.
Sikhulile Moyo, a virologist at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, tells the AP that he was sequencing COVID-19 samples at his lab when he noticed a handful that differed. After he released his data, researchers in South Africa noted they had seen the same mutational pattern, the AP says, noting that the viral variant since dubbed Omicron has been detected across the world. Moyo tells the AP that he was only able to spot the new variant because he could compare his samples to ones others had shared publicly. "The only way you can really see that you see something new is when you compare with millions of sequences. That's why you deposit it online," he says there.
Moyo adds that previous investment in studying and sequencing HIV and AIDS enabled researchers in Botswana to make the switch to analyze SARS-CoV-2. "I think COVID has magnified, has made us realize that we need to focus on things that are important and invest in our health systems, invest in our primary healthcare," he tells the AP.