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The genetic code of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is only about 30,000 characters long, but what a story it tells.
Those nucleotides conceal secrets of the virus’ past, including its origins, its passage among families and its journey to distant ports. They signal how long it has been at large and whether it can hide by infecting people who show no outward signs of illness. And they can point the way to medicines, vaccines and public health strategies that might bring a runaway crisis under control.
Unlocking all of that requires a combination of teamwork and technology that didn’t exist when the SARS epidemic broke out nearly 20 years ago. But today, when a deadly virus explodes out of nowhere, geneticists are indispensable players in the international game of whodunit.