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Therese Raphael and Sam Fazeli

The Woman Who Made the UK a World-Beater in Genomics

Sharon Peacock, the microbiologist who pioneered Britain’s genomics sequencing effort in the pandemic, talks about why sequencing still matters.



Photographer: WPA Pool/Getty Images Europe

The term “world beating” gets bandied about a lot in Britain, most often by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In many cases, it’s self-serving hyperbole. But not when it comes to the deployment of viral genomics during the pandemic.

A virus’s genome, composed of nucleotide base “letters,” is essentially its instruction manual. The UK’s ability to rapidly sequence SARS-CoV-2 samples allowed the country to identify how quickly the virus was spreading, to identify new variants and to gauge the impact of public-health measures.