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Working Together Against COVID-19: IRIDA Bioinformatics and Analytics Platform

Posted
on October 7, 2020

Posted by: Erik Bitmanis, Business Development Specialist

In this blog post, I examine the Integrated Rapid Infectious Disease Analysis (IRIDA) platform and its integral role in the quest to combat the COVID-19 virus. IRIDA was designed to be a user-friendly and open source bioinformatic analysis platform that supports real-time infectious disease outbreak investigation using genomic sequence data. IRIDA was developed through a collaboration of Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Dalhousie University, McMaster University, and the National Microbiology Laboratory where the core development team resides.

How is IRIDA enabling COVID-19 research?

IRIDA is the official genomic, epidemiology platform used by the public health laboratories across Canada, and recently, an instance of IRIDA has been deployed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. At the National Microbiology Laboratory, IRIDA serves as the official repository for SARS-CoV-2 virus genomic sequence data in Canada. Here, COVID-19 data from all provinces and territories is submitted to and analyzed by IRIDA. Also, IRIDA is playing an essential role in the CanCoGEN Project funded by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and administered by Genome Canada.

What makes IRIDA so effective in its analysis and sequencing of COVID-19 data is its use of Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). Whole Genome Sequencing is a process that captures the complete DNA sequence of an organism. The benefit of WGS when it comes to infectious disease research like COVID-19 is that it is able to differentiate minute changes in the virus that when combined with epidemiological evidence, enables tracing of the viruses regionally, nationally and globally. While the benefits of WGS are known across the genomic research community, before IRIDA, WGS was difficult to analyze due to the sheer volume of data it generates, and the costly, hard-to-use software required to analyze and contextualize it. IRIDA removes these barriers making WGS accessible to public health researchers, accelerating COVID-19 research efforts.

What’s next for IRIDA?

With IRIDA’s importance in COVID-19 research, the IRIDA team is looking to continue expanding and streamlining workflows within the platform to make it increasingly accessible for more researchers. Already, a team led by Dr. Emma Griffiths is looking to establish standardized formats for displaying and recording genome data. This standardization could greatly increase the effectiveness of collaboration among Canadian and international research partners. Alongside this new standardization, the IRIDA team is hoping to expand the platform with improvements to data visualization and exporting of standardized reports.

Stronger Together

Collaboration has been at the heart of the IRIDA platform from its onset, which is why it will remain an open source platform for the research community. This will allow users to install IRIDA in their own environments and use the platform to support their research. IRIDA has already been deployed in some international research labs in both South Africa and the United Kingdom.

With the funding and support received through CANARIE’s Research Software Program, the IRIDA team is continuing to evolve the platform so that it can support more research teams in genomics and other disciplines.
The COVID-19 epidemic has affected humanity on a global, unprecedented scale, but Canadians can take pride in the role that IRIDA plays in advancing critical research to mitigate its impacts.

For more information about the IRIDA Platform, please visit https://www.irida.ca/

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