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Communications of the ACM


Coalition of the Willing Takes Aim at COVID-19

four individuals and a hand holding a mobile phone, illustration

Credit: DesignPrax

The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world during the first quarter of 2020 spurred a massive response across the technological base, not least in computer and data science. Scientists and technologists both inside and outside healthcare snapped into action as the scale of the outbreak became clear, some providing techniques they had been working on for years, others proposing new projects all aimed at arresting the virus' progress.

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory's Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), for example, already had a multiyear project underway to build a portal for anonymized genetic data from patients. Rolf Apweiler, co-director of EMBL-EBI, says it became clear at an early stage in the pandemic that those who suffered the most serious symptoms were "not only old people with underlying health conditions, but relatively young and healthy people. It is unclear why they are vulnerable and it may be in their genetic makeup. Understanding that is pretty important because if we want to go back to normal life, we want to find people who are vulnerable and need more protection."


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