Genomics is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on studying an organism’s entire nucleic acid material (such as DNA or RNA), which is known as its genome. In 1977, researchers sequenced the first viral genome — phi X174, a virus that attacks bacteria.


Electron micrograph of Phi X 174


But much progress has been made since then. For example, as of September 2021, there were 11,465 viral genome sequences available. 

It is important to generate the complete genome sequence of viruses for several public health reasons. Knowing the viral sequence allows researchers to detect whether a virus is present in a host organism, and it provides clues for how a virus attacks and infects the host cell.

Viruses need to be able to use the functions of host cells to replicate themselves. Inhibiting some of the host cell’s functions can potentially make viruses vulnerable. Researchers are studying genome sequences of both viruses and their hosts so as to target specific cell pathways that can be used for treatment.

Studying viral genomes is key for understanding viral mutations and their evolution over time. Understanding viral genomes also helps researchers track outbreaks and consider how best to treat viral infections or vaccinate against a virus.