[source Roscommon Herald]
A Ballaghaderreen academic is at the forefront in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Geneticist Dr Keith Durkin is currently working at the University of Liège in Belgium, helping to unpick the virus that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people worldwide and brought the planet’s economy to a practical standstill.
Part of a global scientific endeavour, it is hoped that this work will help scientists better understand how the virus responsible for Covid-19 spreads and how infections are related. It could also help locate new sources of infection once lockdown measures are relaxed. Ultimately this work will inform medical treatments and save lives.
“At the moment we have sequenced about 180 SARS-CoV-2 genomes,” Dr Durkin told the Roscommon Herald.
“These are a subset of the positive samples from the clinical microbiology lab at the University Hospital in Liège. We are using a new technology from a company in the UK called Oxford Nanopore that allows for rapid sequencing using a very small device that can be attached to a laptop. A lot of the SARS-CoV-2 sequencing is being done with this technology.”
Carrying out this painstaking research is by necessity both time consuming and intricate, but it is vital work.
The son of well-known business people Mary Theresa Durkin and Colm Durkin, he is a past pupil of St Nathy’s College. Dr Durkin studied equine science at the University of Limerick, before completing a PhD in genetics at Texas A&M University, in College Station Texas, where he worked on horse genetics.
“I then moved to Liège, Belgium to work in the University of Liège, I have been here for 10 years now. I originally worked on cattle genetics but have moved to working on different viruses that cause cancer in cattle, sheep, and humans, as well as HIV,” he said.
“My wife, Maria Artesi, is Italian from Naples. We work together in the lab and it’s mainly me and her that have been doing the SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in Liège.”
Regarding whether pandemics will become more frequent, he could not say. “They have happened multiple times in the past and it will happen again, we just don’t know when and where. Many have warned about such an outbreak being a possibility given the recent near misses of SARS-1 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
“This outbreak does show how modern communications can spread a virus very effectively across the whole world.”