As the global health emergency caused by the Zika outbreak continues, the virus underlying it remains a mystery, with devastating consequences still being identified. More than a year after Zika became widespread in the Americas, scientists have yet to fully unravel its trajectory across the continents, the scale and impact of disease risk, or how the virus might be defeated.

Given the pressing need to better understand this growing public health threat, researchers at the Broad Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University, in partnership with colleagues at Florida Gulf Coast UniversityThe Scripps Research Institute, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (known as Fiocruz) in Rio de Janeiro, the National Autonomous University of Honduras, and others, are working together to bring the power of genomics to bear on the Zika outbreak.

Today this partnership is releasing 33 Zika virus genome sequences obtained directly from patients or mosquitoes in the affected regions across the outbreak. The genome data, together with related information about the samples, are being made freely available to the global scientific community to speed Zika research worldwide. The data are currently available as consensus sequences on the open-access viral genomics community website, and will soon be deposited on NCBI GenBank.

The data offer a window into the genetic underpinnings of the Zika virus as it circulates across the hemisphere. The researchers hope it may also harbor important clues that could aid in understanding how the virus spreads and causes disease, and improving diagnostics and therapies to control it.

At MIT, Irene Bosch and Lee Gehrke, whose strong research network in South and Central America helped seed this partnership, are developing rapid diagnostics for Zika and other arboviruses. The teams are now working together to analyse and publish findings from their genome data.

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