British scientists release Ebola sequencing data

The first data set has been released by a team of British scientists taking part in an international, multi-organizational effort to stem the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The scientists have developed a genetic analysis, which is now available online at www.virological.org. With this information, other members of the scientific community are able to study the evolution of the pathogen in real time.

The research of the British scientists was funded by the Wellcome Trust and was conducted using semi-conductor next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology. The resulting data generated in a lab funded by Public Health England and International Medical Corps.

Ian Goodfellow, Ph.D., head of virology at the University of Cambridge in England, volunteered twice at the diagnostic laboratory of an Ebola treatment center in one of the most Ebola-ridden areas of Sierra Leone. He came back a third time to research the virus using the advanced NGS technology.

“Sequencing the genome of a virus can tell us a lot about how it spreads and changes as it passes from person to person," Dr. Paul Kellam, professor of the virus genomics laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said. "While this information is invaluable to researchers, the rapid sharing of data does not always occur.”

Kellam leads the group of scientists mapping the genomic data from Goodfellow and his colleagues.

Since the first case of Ebola in West Africa was reported in March 2014, nearly 11,000 people have died there from the disease.

The cutting-edge sequencing system was put in place in a laboratory next to an Ebola Treatment Centre in Makeni. This was funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and is run by Public Health England; the Ebola Treatment Centre is run by International Medical Corps.

“This important and timely effort to better understand Ebola’s evolution at the molecular level would not have been possible without the active participation and support from each organization involved,” said Chris Linthwaite, president of genetic sciences at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

A similar sequencing system is slated to be installed at the University of Makeni.

“We’ve learned many painful lessons from the Ebola outbreak, not least of which is that as a scientific community we must become less secretive with the data that is generated," Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said. “The Wellcome Trust is delighted to support this crucial work with its center of gravity in Sierra Leone.”

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