Like most Covid-19 researchers, Ana Gonzalez-Reiche didn’t start out studying coronaviruses. But her experiences with zoonotic viruses and tracking the evolution of pathogens set her up to be in the right position to sequence the sample of a Mt. Sinai patient and confirm that, indeed, Covid had arrived in New York.
Gonzalez-Reiche is originally from Guatemala, where she first got into virology by studying avian viruses. Gonzalez-Reiche always felt like she had the tools to do her science there, even though basic reagents could take months to arrive.
But once she started working at top-of-the-line facilities during her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, she realized what could happen when science was resource-rich. “That’s impossible,” she said when someone told her that her supplies had been delivered two days after she ordered them.
Gonzalez-Reiche’s work in phylogenetic analysis and genetic sequencing, along with her interest in computation, led her to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2016, where her mentor led an influenza surveillance lab. Gonzalez-Reiche was originally working on another project, but as her coworkers struggled to figure out how to sequence SARS-CoV-2 in preparation for potential cases in February 2020, she asked, “Do you want me to try?”
She has since published another 19 papers on the virus, including studies on mutations in the Omicron spike protein and the BA.1.23 variant, which originated at Mt. Sinai.
She’s chosen to stay on as an instructor at Mt. Sinai’s department of genetics and genomic sciences because she wants to continue the work. “There are still a lot of things we don’t know,” she said.
— Brittany Trang