A pair of Georgia Tech scientists took a standing-room-only audience through a tour of the science behind the global coronavirus investigation, with a special focus on why global officials are concerned about the strength, speed, and size of the current outbreak.
The Center for Microbial Dynamics and Infection at Georgia Tech hosted the forum, which featured Joshua Weitz, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences; Phil Santangelo, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Trevor Bedford, a faculty member in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.
(A link to the YouTube video of the Coronavirus Forum can be found in the Media section below.)
Bedford, with experience working on previous flu and Ebola virus outbreaks, focused on the epidemiological detective work that began in early January with the release of the first novel coronavirus (nCoV) genome by Chinese health officials. Bedford said compared to previous outbreaks, such as SARS and Ebola, scientists are much better at rapidly analyzing that data and sharing it with colleagues around the world.
“One thing that’s really been remarkable here is that with Ebola in 2014, we basically had to wait a year between sample collection and release of genome,” Bedford said. “Now we’re waiting between four to six days.”
Weitz, also a professor in the School of Physics, and the director of the interdisciplinary PhD program in Quantitative Biosciences, described the mathematical models used to determine the infection rates of the coronavirus. Santangelo highlighted what scientists have learned so far about the genetic makeup of the virus. That information, Santangelo said, could help determine how health officials might contain and kill the virus, including the development of RNA-based vaccines.