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SA Branch webinar: Investigating the spread and divergence of genetic variations within the SARS-CoV-2 genome

  • 26 Nov 2020
  • 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM (CADT)
  • virtual Zoom meeting

SA Branch Meeting - Thursday, 26th November 2020

The South Australian Branch of the Statistical Society would like to invite you to the November meeting of the 2020 program.

Virtual Venue via Zoom meeting:

Password: 833263

or Join from dial-in phone line:

Dial: +61 2 8015 2088

Meeting ID:899 3152 8694

Speaker: Dr Laurence Wilson, CSIRO

Topic: Investigating the spread and divergence of genetic variations within the SARS-CoV-2 genome


The emergence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been accompanied by a significant increase in the genetic diversity of the virus, with multiple phylogenetic clusters emerging. This highlights the need for sophisticated methods of monitoring variation amongst the genomes. We have been working to develop platforms and methodologies to help address this need. 

In the early stages of the pandemic, we developed an alignment-free method for ‘fingerprinting’ the emerging viral genomes to identify what strains would be best for establishing animal models. Unlike phylogenetic trees, which focus on individual shared mutations, this new approach assesses genome‐wide co‐developing functionalities and hence offers a more fluid view of the ‘cloud of variances’ that RNA viruses are prone to accumulate.

More recently, we have been focused on investigating whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been undergoing active recombination. Examining existing phylogenetic trees, we find that many strains are poorly explained by just one parent. To examine whether these can be better explained be recombination events we developed an algorithm to find possible recombination events. Using this approach, we identified recombination events amongst circulating strains, characterizing their distribution in terms of both time and geography. Based on our analysis, we believe that there is evidence SARS-CoV-2 is undergoing recombination and that this is contributing to the genetic diversity being observed.

Work with Laurence Wilson, Cameron Hosking, Aidan Tay, Brendan Hosking, Daniel Reti, Suzanne Scott, and Denis Bauer


Dr Laurence Wilson is the leader of CSIRO’s Digital Genome Engineering team, focused on developing next-generation technologies for genome editing applications across the fields of precision medicine and biosecurity. His team has developed the GT-Scan suite, a computational toolbox that uses machine learning to better understand and model how gene editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 function. He is working to apply these technologies in the field of biosecurity, by developing methods for designing and monitoring gene-drives, as well as bringing gene editing technology to the clinic through collaborations with the Children’s Medical Research Institute to develop cutting edge gene therapy treatments. Dr Wilson also contributed to CSIRO’s response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, developing cloud-based platforms for monitoring and tracing the spread of the virus as well as leading research into how the virus is evolving. This work has been key to understanding the virus and contributing to Australia’s response.  

Feel free to forward this meeting notice to colleagues, all welcome.

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