In this week's Nature, three separate research teams publish studies that collectively analyzed nearly 200 Zika virus genomes, providing insights into the emergence and spread of the disease. In one paper, a Scripps Research Institute-led team sequenced 39 new Zika virus genomes from infected patients and mosquito vectors, then tracked infections with the virus from its first detection in Miami. They found that Zika was introduced to Florida at least four times and that most of these introductions were linked to travel from the Caribbean. In the second study, British scientists report 54 new Zika virus genomes, mostly from northeast Brazil, and show that this region was key in the establishment and spread of the current epidemic. In the final paper, Broad Institute investigators sequenced 110 Zika virus genomes obtained from 10 countries and report rapid expansion of the epidemic within Brazil and multiple introductions to other geographic regions. In a related Nature Protocols paper, University of Birmingham scientists and collaborators describe one of the methods used to sequence the Zika virus genomes in these studies, which combines an online primer design tool, a novel multiplex PCR enrichment protocol, optimized library preparation methods for Oxford Nanopore Technologies' portable MinION sequencer and the Illumina range of instruments, and a bioinformatics pipeline for generating consensus sequences. GenomeWeb has more on these studies, here.
Also in Nature, an international research team publishes a high-quality reference genome for the sunflower. The group sequenced the genome of the domesticated sunflower, then performed comparative and genome-wide analyses to reveal new details about the evolutionary history of the subgroup of flowering plants known as asterids. They also found new candidate genes and reconstructed genetic networks for flowering time and oil metabolism, and found that the flowering time networks have been shaped by the latest whole-genome duplication. GenomeWeb also covers this here.