‘We’ll continue until we find the answers’ — sequencing the COVID-19 genome
Amid the whirlwind of changes to campus life wrought by the onset and spread of coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19), the Yale Center for Genome Analysis is performing a vital role in the fight against the virus.
The center, located on Yale’s West Campus, is one of a handful of university facilities with the specialized technology necessary for investigating the biological and chemical functions and mechanisms at play within the virus.
Yale’s Shrikant Mane — director of the center and of the Keck Biotechnology Resource Laboratory, and professor of genetics — discussed the center’s COVID-19 research. Interview condensed and edited.
What COVID-19 research are you engaged in at the center?
My lab is making DNA strands for some of our researchers around the university doing COVID-19 work. We’re also involved in sequencing the COVID-19 genome. We are actually studying what changes happen when the COVID-19 virus enters our cells. What is the response in our cells? That’s the kind of work we are doing.
It will allow us to understand the mechanics of the virus, so we can identify targets for drug treatments.
How have social distancing and public safety protocols changed the way you go about this work?
We have eight people working in the lab and they take turns actually being physically in the lab. At any time, there are only four people working. Thankfully, the lab is really huge, so everybody works in different corners. They don’t even go to lunch at the same time, in order to maintain appropriate distancing in our kitchen. Those kinds of things are in place.
What technology is being brought to bear in the COVID-19 research?
We’re using high-throughput sequencers. These are million-dollar pieces of equipment that do sequencing on a large number of samples at one time.
At Yale there are six or seven labs trying to understand how this virus acts. We have the ability to infect healthy cells with the virus and then figure out what the virus is doing in each and every cell. That’s called single-cell genomics. With that information, we can do experiments in which we manipulate things and learn how the virus reacts. We can try to change the virus’ response.
I expect this work to go on for months. We’ll continue until we find the answers.
How is your staff holding up through these new tasks and protocols?
There is no doubt about the importance of what we’re doing here, and how meaningful it is to us. My staff is very dedicated. What else can I say? Nobody has complained. Not once.