Researchers from the University of Birmingham are working with health partners in Brazil to combat the spread of Zika virus by deploying a pair of mobile DNA sequencing laboratories on a medical ‘road trip’ through the worst-hit areas of the country.

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A team of global experts will use portable, USB-powered genome sequencing equipment to analyse virus samples and use the data gathered to track the spread of the virus and spot its emergence in large towns and cities.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the project is supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and draws together experts from Public Health England, the Universities of Oxford, Nottingham and Edinburgh, as well as the University of Sydney, Australia and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, in Toronto, Canada.

“I hope our work in Brazil will reveal more about Zika’s origins, how often it has entered the Americas, how it interacts with the immune system, how many strains there are, and whether it interacts with other viruses such as Dengue and Chikungunya. We have no real feel for that at the moment. Even though the volume of knowledge is increasing, there is much remaining to be learnt about Zika virus,” says Dr. Nick Loman, from the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham.

The new mobile units will add to the current body of knowledge so that, hopefully, Zika virus will no longer be a public health threat.

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