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Virus variants: GISAID policies incentivize surveillance in global south

When SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus genome sequences determined in low-income nations are rapidly shared through the independent Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), attention and collaboration flow in from scientists at prestigious institutes (see, for example, This helps to highlight education and health-security inadequacies in less-wealthy countries.

Centralized workflows realize economies of scale, but adapt slowly to changes on the ground. In our view, the best way to fortify grass-roots participation and speed up data sharing would be for sequencing, analysis and discovery to occur in the communities from which samples are collected.

Policies benefiting those who share data incentivize local genomic surveillance. GISAID boosts sharing by negating researchers’ reluctance to rapidly deposit sequence data anonymously. Those calling for unrestricted data access (Nature 590, 195–196; 2021) propose conditions that have failed during public-health emergencies (J. LoTempio et al. Sci. Diplom. 9, 47; 2020).

Money is pouring in for genomic surveillance (see Greater community participation will underpin this investment by accelerating detection of new virus variants.

Nature 593, 341 (2021)


A full list of co-signatories to this letter appears in Supplementary Information.

Supplementary Information

  1. List of co-signatories

Competing Interests

V.S.C. is an adviser and co-founder of Microbial Genome Sequencing Center, LLC. J.P.K. is a consultant for BioNTech.

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