When British scientists rushed to set up a system to track the evolution of the coronavirus early last year, they faced doubts that it would be worth the effort. In the initial months of the crisis, the pathogen appeared to be undergoing limited, inconsequential change.
Each genome analysed by the UK operation looked similar to the last. Since then, dangerous variants surfacing in England, South Africa and Brazil have erased any questions about the organisation’s value
Other countries are racing to catch up, and the US this month announced it will spend nearly $200 million to follow variants.