How Next Generation Sequencing Can Help Manage Pandemics

With one eye on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and another on the new, potentially devastating outbreaks that lie in our future, scientists are harnessing the incredible capabilities of next generation genetic sequencing as a powerful management tool. As detailed in the leading clinical news source MedNews, next generation sequencing (NGS) has played and will continue to play a key role in data generation that can not only identify evolving viral variants but uncover the critical consequences of new variants in terms of function, contagion, causes, and risk factors.

When it emerged in the early 2000s, NGS represented an enormous step forward in genetics, and NGS technologies have only continued to blossom and grow since then. While it took the Human Genome Project 13 years to produce the first map of the human genome, the researchers of today can accomplish the same feat in a single day thanks to NGS.

The extreme urgency of the COVID-19 response has breathed new life into the NGS field, positioning it as an essential element in the fight against global biological threats. In addition to its considerable applications on the current COVID-19 battlefront, next generation sequencing holds tremendous promise when it comes to preventing and responding to dangerous contagious viruses that are yet unknown.

Shortly after the emergence of COVID-19, NGS technology proved pivotal in the identification of SARS-CoV-2 as the pathogen that is responsible for the disease. This identification allowed researchers to effectively detect COVID-19, determine the ways in which it impacts human health, and better track both its spread and its mutation into the subsequent Delta and Omicron variants. NGS also precipitated the development of both diagnostic tests and preventative vaccines.

As COVID-19 continues to mutate and spread, NGS continues to drive innovation in the methodology that scientists use to track and monitor this highly unpredictable and extremely devastating disease. The most advanced NGS techniques that target COVID-19 are powered by turnkey automation, which requires little to no operational human intervention. Operating around the clock with amazing efficiency, these automated techniques are able to produce results in a matter of hours rather than days. As global supply chain limitations continue to slow the sourcing and delivery of essential items such as COVID-19 diagnostic tests, the speed of NGS processing has become a literal lifesaver.

As the Delta and Omicron variants continue to ravage the world population, most experts are confident that COVID-19 will remain with us for years to come. This prediction positions next generation sequencing as a critical weapon in our ongoing combat against this virus for the foreseeable future.

If and when we finally manage to beat COVID-19, the need for high-quality NGS will certainly remain an essential component of basic public health. The general scientific consensus is that COVID-19 will be far from the last pandemic to place the globe in a death grip. As we move deeper into the winter flu season, experts suspect many heretofore unknown pathogens to emerge and evolve. NGS efforts hold the key to identifying, understanding, tracking, and ameliorating these pathogens. In the best-case scenario, NGS can help us put an end to the next great pandemic before it even starts!

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