Tracking mutations of the coronavirus as it spreads across the world, biologist Emma Hodcroft has become one of Switzerland’s most-followed researchers on Twitter.

Her name has appeared in Wired, the Boston Globe and (German-language media including) the NZZ, but also in the Aargauer Zeitung, Blick and even Nau, a news platform shown on screens in buses, at petrol stations and fitness centres. This is an impressive feat, because Emma Hodcroft, an American-British researcher working in Basel, does pretty complicated research. She is busy mapping mutations of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in real time. But her straightforward communication style has made her one of the best-known faces of science in Switzerland during the pandemic, along with senior experts. “It was heart-warming to be featured in local media. As a foreigner in Switzerland, I felt accepted and valued”, she says, sitting on a metal chair in a park next to her flat in Basel.

But she regrets that the media sometimes badly misrepresent the genetics of coronavirus: “A mistaken narrative keeps popping up: that some types of SARS-CoV-2 would have different epidemiological properties, such as being more or less contagious according to the population at hand. But this is absolutely incorrect. We’ve compared tens of thousands of virus samples from all over the world, looking at mutations where one genetic letter is exchanged for another. And even the two most divergent mutations have no more than 40 such mismatches out of the 29,000 base pairs that contain their whole genetic information. These are very small differences, and have so far shown no impact on the behaviour of the virus”….

Image Credit: Roland Schmid / 13 Photo

Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen.  Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen

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