The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) alongside the Instituto Evandro Chagas in Brazil are also involved in the Zibra (Zika in Brazil Real Time Analysis) project. In May and June 2016, the Zibra project began sequencing 750 complete genomes of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in Brazil to provide important epidemiological information about the spread of Zika there.

This is being carried out in the context of a major epidemic of ZIKV that is ongoing in Latin America. Evidence has been found of an association between infection with ZIKV and both microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome. For various reasons, including the difficulties involved in transporting material outside of Brazil for sequencing, complete genome sequences for this virus are rare.

Using the Oxford Nanopore MinION device, real-time portable genome sequencing can be carried out. Indeed, this technique was used successfully to characterize Ebola virus genetic diversity in Guinea during the 2014-2015 outbreak. (See correspondence published in Nature 11th February 2016).

Working alongside the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Instituto Evandro Chagas public health laboratory in Brazil, it is hoped that a broad geographical region will be covered to include historical samples and samples from patients with a range of clinical presentations. These novel genomic data will provide key information on how and when ZIKV was introduced to Brazil, the pattern and determinants of spread through the country and to neighbouring localities, the extent of genetic diversity (of importance to vaccine and diagnostic design), and whether there are any associations between changes in the virus genome and the likelihood of ZIKV complications such as microcephaly.

Researchers in the Zibra project expect that these data will provide a surveillance framework for tracking further spread into other geographic regions. As previously, they hope that “this effort will serve as a beacon for open science during a public health emergency”.

Crucially, data will be subject to open release as it is generated.

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The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874667.