IN EARLY JANUARY 2020, months before the World Health Organization officially uttered the word “pandemic,” a research hospital in Shanghai received a sample of a mysterious virus that had sparked a cluster of pneumonia cases more than 400 miles away, in Wuhan. Virologist Zhang Yongzhen, who had studied thousands of new viruses over the course of his career, quickly got to work.
Zhang sequenced the virus’s genome in less than two days and submitted his results to a US-run database for review. But, knowing that there was no time to waste, Zhang and a colleague also decided to post the sequence on an open-access site. It was a turning point: Even as the virus, which we now know as SARS-CoV-2, began to spread globally, researchers everywhere had already started using Zhang’s sequence to study it, design diagnostic tests, and develop vaccines. If you’re one of the nearly 200 million US residents who’ve received a dose of a COVID-19 shot, you have Zhang in part to thank for it.
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