UC COVID-19 seed funding supports UCSC coronavirus genome browser

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UCSC Genome Browser view of SARS-CoV-2 genomic datasets
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The UCSC Genome Browser is developed and maintained by the Genome Bioinformatics Group, a cross-departmental team within the UCSC Genomics Institute.

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute’s Genome Browser Team has received seed funding from the UC Office of the President for its work on the UCSC Genome Browser for SARS-CoV-2, which supports biomedical research aimed at developing therapeutics and a vaccine for COVID-19.

The team fast-tracked efforts to adapt the UCSC Genome Browser to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19) in February, when labs around the world began sequencing the viral genome. The browser is an interactive online tool that gives researchers easy access to the latest molecular data related to the coronavirus genome.

Researchers are generating molecular data pertaining to the SARS-CoV-2 genome and its proteins at an unprecedented rate during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Max Haeussler, an assistant research scientist at the Genomics Institute. “As a result, there is a critical need for rapid and continuously updated access to the latest molecular data in a format in which all data can be quickly cross-referenced and compared.”

In recent weeks, the UCSC SARS-CoV-2 Genome Browser has received an average of 12,500 page hits per week, and usage continues to grow, Haeussler said. The browser provides easily accessible information on, for example, where new mutations in the viral genome are located, how common they are in other coronaviruses, and what their impacts are on viral proteins. Researchers can also see which parts of the viral genome are being studied by other researchers, with annotations providing information about published data on, for example, the immune response to the virus and points of interaction between human and viral genes.

UC has awarded $2 million in seed funding for important research across the state aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19, particularly among those at greater risk for infection and adverse outcomes. UC awarded the funds to support rapid-response, high-impact research in vaccines, therapeutics, clinical management, epidemiology, and other COVID-19 related areas.

A crucial consideration of selected applications was the ability of researchers to start work immediately, as COVID-19 continues to affect millions globally and requires urgent solutions.

This is a challenging time for our country and for those suffering from COVID-19,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “With some of the world’s premier researchers and scientists working to find answers to this disease and ways to alleviate its impacts, UC is in a prime position to make a real difference for those most at-risk.”

The research awards provide up to $25,000 in seed funding to each selected proposal. The projects were approved for six months after which time researchers can apply for additional funds to continue their projects and build upon their research successes.