Think of the open-source project Nextstrain.org as an outbreak museum. Labs around the world contribute genetic sequences of viruses collected from patients, and Nextstrain uses that data to paint the evolution of epidemics through global maps and phylogenetic charts, the family trees for viruses.
So far, Nextstrain has crunched nearly 1,500 genomes from the new coronavirus, and the data already show how this virus is mutating—every 15 days, on average—as the COVID-19 pandemic rages around the world.
As menacing as the word sounds, mutations don’t mean the virus is becoming more harmful. Instead, these subtle shifts in the virus’s genetic code are helping researchers quickly figure out where it’s been, as well as dispel myths about its origins.