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Right at the Source

Genomics offers the ability to keep an eye on disease outbreaks as they pop up and begin to spread, but as the University of Birmingham's Nick Loman writes at The Conversation, that ability has largely been restricted so far to academic medical centers.

Members of his lab, though, are working on bringing that capability to disease epicenters, a move he says will decrease the time it takes for public health experts and others to react to outbreaks.

Josh Quick, a graduate student in the Loman lab, flew to Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak is ongoing, with a portable genomic surveillance system — containing several Oxford Nanopore MinIONs and associated reagents — in his baggage. Loman writes that this portable system, once set up in the European Mobile Laboratory, enabled them to generate 14 Ebola genome sequences, many within 48 hours of collecting a blood sample from the patient.

This, Loman says, can help epidemiologists in their quest to stop the spread of disease. By comparing various viral samples, they can establish a chain of transmission or uncover new networks to explore, he notes.

And it's not just for viral detection. Such genomic surveillance could also track bacterial outbreaks, including food-borne infections, Loman adds.