SANTA CRUZ — UC Santa Cruz researchers have collected more than 10 million genetic variants of the COVID-19 virus from around the world and organized them into a family tree charting the evolution of the coronavirus.

“This amount of data is truly unprecedented,” said UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics programmer Angie Hinrichs. “We’ve never had so many genomes of the same species.”

In February 2020, after the first coronavirus strain became available, UC Santa Cruz researchers modified the design of their existing genome browser and created one specifically designed to capture and display the collected genetic variants of the COVID-19 virus. to give. Once the browser was built, thousands of coronavirus sequences poured in daily from researchers, both in the US and internationally. UC Santa Cruz researchers struggled to manage the massive influx of data.

“The tools available before the pandemic to build phylogenetic trees could handle a few thousand genome sequences, but suddenly we had tens of thousands,” said Hinrichs, who has worked with the university’s genome browser for more than 20 years.

With that in mind, a team of researchers, including Hinrichs, was assembled to squeeze the unfathomable amount of information into the form of a phylogenetic tree, such as a family tree of the virus. A member of the team, then a postdoctoral scientist, Yatish Turakhia, wrote a new software program called UShER, which allowed scientists to quickly and accurately organize the coronavirus variants on the vast phylogenetic tree stored in the university’s coronavirus-specific browser. The number of variants in the database exceeded ten million in June.

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