Tracing a viral outbreak

When a viral outbreak occurs, it is all hands on deck to trace the origin and quickly control the spread. But how is this done? Learn how we detect, diagnose and trace viral outbreaks.

Viruses are the cause of many diseases worldwide including the flu, measles, gastroenteritis and COVID19. When an outbreak occurs, there is limited time to find the cause and quickly implement control measures, including quarantine, rapid testing and lockdowns. The current coronavirus pandemic is a prime example of many research institutes and industries coming together with different approaches to help manage the outbreak. Sydney has an extensive wastewater surveillance system to identify coronavirus fragments in suburbs combined with genomic sequencing to identify the strain and epidemiologists undertaking contact tracing. By combining these techniques, it is easier to trace and control viral outbreaks.

Our research lab at UNSW undertakes testing of both clinical samples and wastewater to help track viral outbreaks including norovirus and SARS-CoV2. This project will introduce students to virology and epidemiology concepts and methods in a state-of-the-art molecular biology laboratory. 

What Students will do 

In this project, students will get a chance to think like an epidemiologist and virologist to find patient zero of a viral outbreak. Students will learn how to diagnose viral infections and use techniques including phylogenetics and gene analysis to trace viral evolution. Students will be able to explore their hypothesis using a combination of computer (dry-lab) and wet-lab methods.

Prerequisite Study

  • None

Areas of Student Interest

  • Microbiology
  • Disease
  • Immunology
  • Virology
  • Biology

Lead Academic: Peter White - Professor, School of Biotechnology & Biomolecular Sciences

Peter White is a Professor in Microbiology at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW. His research interests are currently viral gastroenteritis, viral discovery and evolution, and the development of antiviral agents. 

PhD Student: Emma Harding

Emma Harding is a virology PhD student studying the evolution of viruses by finding viral fossils inside the DNA of animals, and discovering new viruses in wildlife. She has always liked science growing up, and honed in on the field of microbiology during her Bachelor's degree. Aside from research, Emma also loves science communication, board games and making things.