The instrument, which has been accessible on-line since 2021, now information greater than 15 million viral sequences, and scientists add to it day by day. It helps them and public well being officers uncover new strains, assign them names, and observe their evolution. It additionally permits them to surveil the virus in actual time on a world scale with a excessive diploma of precision.
Extra not too long ago, the crew constructed one other software program instrument, referred to as RIPPLES, which examines UShER’s in depth household tree construction and investigates whether or not particular “branches” of variants could also be recombinants—genetically distinct hybrid variants. A recombinant may, for instance, take one a part of its genome from the delta variant and one other half from omicron. As a result of they primarily have two “mother and father,” recombinants are each rarer and more durable to establish.
Earlier than the event of RIPPLES, scientists’ solely methodology of figuring out potential recombinants was by remembering mutations they’d noticed in different variants. RIPPLES automates that course of, permitting well being specialists to reconstruct the virus’s evolutionary historical past. It additionally helps them work out whether or not a beforehand unseen sequence is a really unbiased mutation or a mixture of present variants.