21 Mar 2020

James Hadfield: NZ phylogeneticist tracking COVID-19's spread

From Saturday Morning, 10:35 am on 21 March 2020

Working from home isn't exactly a new experience for phylogeneticist Dr James Hadfield. Based in Wanaka but employed by Seattle's Bedford Lab, he works on the open source Nextstrain platform: this allows scientists all over the world to share and compare genetic information about SARS CoV-2 and other viruses in one central location, and then track their rate of mutation and their spread in real time. 

The data helps to build up a 'family tree' of a virus revealing the timeline of where transmissions in a particular country started and came from. The response to the COVID-19 outbreak has seen information about hundreds of samples from 33 different countries being logged and shared in the quest to understand and fight the virus better. 

Meanwhile, after the West African Ebola outbreak of (which killed more than 11,000 people in the two and a half years to June 2016), Hadfield also got involved in the ARTIC Network. This designed a 'lab in a suitcase' that can sequence samples from viral outbreaks in the field, and analyse how fast-evolving viruses spread.