When coronavirus hit, we generated the first 100 genome sequences in a matter of days. It all happened so fast I don’t think we had time to feel pressured, worry about the responsibility or even begin to understand the future of how it would be used for the surveillance of the pandemic.
It was incredible how everyone from across different teams came together with a single goal. The focus and drive that brought was electric, and there has been no other time that this has happened, as normally we work on many different projects.
The most difficult aspect as a team was working within a fluid landscape. Many details would change on a daily basis, such as the numbers and types of samples we were going to receive. Also getting hold of the reagents and plasticware was a significant challenge. But for me it was actually very clear – we needed a process to sequence COVID genomes as efficiently and quickly as possible.
This vision for me was not using the method we had put together quickly at the start, but a more streamlined process that I was sure I could get working with just a little bit of time to experiment in the lab. Of course, it didn’t work as I had hoped - that’s the reality of research and development.
That was hard – I’d said that I could develop a quicker, cheaper, simpler method but everything we tried did not give us the high data quality we needed.
It was one day at home I scribbled an idea down on a notepad which approached things a little differently. Back at work in the lab, I gave it a go and sequenced. I will never forget the moment I saw the data the next day and that I had been successful. The realisation of what that meant for our operations – I haven’t won the lottery but I imagine it’s a similar feeling.