As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we explore how bioinformatics has paved the path to this point.
There has been a lot of skepticism surrounding how scientific processes were able to move so quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing treatments, vaccines and prevention solutions to the public sphere in record time. While this was very much a collaborative effort from the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare systems, regulators, academia and government, it was initiated, informed and progressed through the generation and application of data.
To leverage big data, from the first publicly available SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence and computational models to understand the virus and predict mutations, through to screens for potential therapies and vaccines – bioinformaticians have had a crucial role to play every step of the way. These bioinformatic methods have dramatically reduced experimental lab time and enabled the communication of key information between the aforementioned collaborators, and to the public both on a national and worldwide scale.
The pandemic has led to a multitude of learnings about the scientific process and how researchers work. Both had to adapt to a new pace, as well as the vast volumes of data that were produced and required to ensure decisions could be made quickly, research could progress, and public concerns were allayed. There was also a ‘work-from-home’ call, with many labs closing completely or limiting their physical presence, so it was crucial for researchers and research to adapt to computational methods for work to continue remotely.
It now feels as though the world is beginning to move on from COVID-19 – legal restrictions have been abolished in many countries and populations are now re-living their pre-2020 ‘normal’. The role of bioinformaticians during the pandemic has been widespread and essential to the feeling of moving on from COVID-19 that so many are now experiencing. We now have a holistic view of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We’re preparing for future mutations and resulting variants with current vaccination programs and ongoing vaccine development.
Let’s look at how bioinformatics has enabled scientific progress during the COVID-19 pandemic and the crucial role it’s played in our ability to move forward with preparedness, prevention, and control.