Sequencing Ebola’s secrets

Study provides deep insights into course, makeup of deadly disease

ast June, in the early days of the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa, a team of researchers sequenced the genome of the deadly virus at unprecedented scale and speed. Their findings revealed a number of critical facts as the outbreak was unfolding, including that the virus was being transmitted only by person-to-person contact and that it was mutating through its many transmissions.

While public health officials are confident that the worst of the epidemic is past, it is not yet over, and questions raised by the previous work still await answers to what it was that happened — and could happen again.

To provide some answers, a global team from Harvard University, the Broad Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health), and many other institutions sequenced more than 200 additional genomes from Ebola virus samples to capture the fullest picture yet of how the virus is transmitted and how it changed over the long outbreak. In an effort to enhance the global response to the disease, the team made their data publicly available as it was produced throughout last year.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of working in this outbreak response is the connections we have made with so many extraordinary individuals through open data sharing,” said senior author Pardis Sabeti. The global team that assembled as a result has now described its analysis in a June 18 paper published in the journal Cell...