ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Where did a person in New Mexico get the coronavirus? How can we stop this from happening again? University of New Mexico scientists are trying to figure all of that out.

Using samples from people who tested positive for coronavirus, researchers are getting a better idea of where the virus started and how it will continue to spread. “We can actually get an estimation on a total number of infections potentially in the state,” says Dr. Darrell Dinwiddie, Assistant Professor at the Division of Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics.

UNM scientists are taking a closer look at the coronavirus. “Those molecular clues, as we call them, are what gives us the ability to track how the virus is spreading,” says Dr. Daryl Domman, Assistant Professor at the Center of Global Health. Those molecular clues are genomes. “We compare the genetic sequences. The genome sequence of the virus we’re seeing in New Mexico,” Dinwiddie says.

From that genetic sequence, they can determine how the virus we’re seeing here compares to stains around that nation, “We can see if the early cases in New Mexico, for example, we can see that they’re similar to viruses that are coming out of New York or Europe that gives us the indication that they probably came from those places as well,” Dinwiddie says.

They can also determine how the virus is entering and spreading in the community. “If we see a cluster of samples that were six or seven samples and they all have the exact same genome sequence of the virus that suggests they all got infected within a week or two of each other potentially through a direct contact or a shared contact,” Dinwiddie says.

Dinwiddie and Domman say so far, they’ve tested 48 genomes from New Mexico and have 1,400 more ready for testing. Information for those tests tell them how long the virus has been spreading and what it might do next. “This gives and empowers our public officials. They can make informed decisions on what needs to be implemented,” Domman says.

By the end of the week, the research team expects to have some projections for how many more cases we could see in New Mexico. New Mexico is one of 19 states working with the CDC to generate the genome sequencing data.

New Mexico Coronavirus Resources