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  • The Future of Fighting Pandemics Relies on the Power of Genomic Sequencing

    Two biologists from Northern Arizona University have put forward an impassioned argument emphasizing the critical role of genomic sequencing in combating pathogens and future pandemics. Jason Ladner and Jason Sahl, in an essay published in PLOS Biology, have highlighted the urgency of continued development, collaboration, and investment in this technology.

    Understanding the Genomes of Pathogens
    The scientists explained that the key to battling a pathogen lies in its genetic code. Decoding this information enables researchers to track the pathogen's movement, predict behavior, identify the source of the outbreak, and most importantly, develop vaccines and treatments. This methodology proved instrumental in the fight against COVID-19 and will continue to be vital for future pandemics.

    According to Ladner and Sahl, genomic sequencing had a profound impact on the global response to COVID-19. They believe that to be better prepared for future outbreaks, society must build on the existing knowledge while acknowledging current limitations.

    Historical Insights and Future Preparations
    By delving into the history of pathogens and genomic sequencing, the biologists shed light on the complexity of infectious diseases. They provided a stark reminder that pathogens remain complicated, even 60 years after scientists believed they had infectious diseases under control.

    The essay serves as a roadmap for various stakeholders, pointing out deficits in research, emphasizing the need for collaboration, and explaining the potential of pathogen sequencing for public health.
    “We wrote this essay to contribute to the broader discussion of how pathogen genome sequencing should be used in the future to improve public health and what types of investments and innovations we need to facilitate this,” Ladner stated.

    Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

    1. Better Infrastructure Required: A significant shortfall identified by the biologists is a global lack of infrastructure for real-time sequencing and collaboration. Sustained investments between stakeholders are needed to address deficits in sequencing capacity and data sharing.

    2. Expanding the Use of Pathogen Genomes: Ladner emphasized the need to expand the application of pathogen genomics in response to infectious diseases, describing it as an issue larger than just science.

    3. Defining Objectives: The role of pathogen genomics needs clear objectives for how genomes should contribute to a public health response. This will aid in planning for future outbreaks and evaluating response effectiveness.

    4. Maintaining Momentum: Although COVID-19 remains a threat, attention to the pandemic has waned. Sahl stressed that sustained federal investments are necessary to prevent a return to pre-pandemic capacity and to ensure a quick response to the next public health threat.

    Conclusion
    The insights and guidance provided by Ladner and Sahl offer a valuable perspective on the current state of genomic sequencing and its potential role in future pandemics. Their call to action emphasizes the importance of collaboration, investment, and a sustained focus on this critical technology, which may prove instrumental in safeguarding public health in the years to come.

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