UNC Charlotte lab department searches for new COVID strains

UNC Charlotte lab department searches for new COVID strains

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Being in a lab wasn’t what Torri Weathers imagined for herself when she first stepped foot on UNC Charlotte’s campus years ago. 

What You Need To Know

  • UNC Charlotte’s bioinformatics and genomics department is working with the Mecklenburg County Health Department on lab work
  • The lab department collects nearly 500 COVID-19 samples from StarMed Healthcare to analyze 
  • Professors and students go through a process called sequencing, which allows them to analyze the samples to monitor and determine what strains are in Mecklenburg County 

“I did the 100 hurdles and the 400 hurdles so my plan was just to come to school and run track and have fun,” she said. 

After getting her undergraduate degree in biology, it was her mother who pushed her even further.

“She was the one telling me that I needed to further my education because a biology major is great, but you can’t really do a whole lot with it,” said Weathers. 

So she decided to get her masters in bioinformatics, but COVID-19 led her to a unique opportunity. 

“I wasn’t expecting to do this at all,” said Weathers. 

For the entire summer, she’s been working closely with this virus through a process called sequencing. 

Weathers analyzes hundreds of COVID-19 samples in the school’s bioinformatics and genomics lab, which allows her to identify and monitor new and different coronavirus strains here in Mecklenburg County. 

Dr. Cynthia Gibas is one of faculty members that helps oversee this tedious but important lab work.  

The lab runs around 500 samples a week. So far, Gibas says they’ve mostly seen the delta variant in our community. 

“The thing about the delta variant is that it’s more transmissible, so we produce more copies of the virus when delta infects us,” she said. 

Gibas hopes their lab work can continue into the future and allow them to monitor other viruses that could impact our area. 

“We definitely don’t want to let our guard down and say, ‘oh well we are all okay,’ and then have the next delta come up without anybody realizing it,” she said. 

Thanks to her mother’s push, Weathers is doing work that can be hard to understand at times. 

“I try to explain it to my mother and she’s dumbfounded every time,” she said. 

But being in the lab and looking for new strains of COVID-19 is an opportunity Weathers is grateful to have. 

“The fact that I’m here every day… I’m like wow I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said. 

UNC Charlotte’s lab is working alongside the county health department to get COVID-19 samples and provide them with information about new strains. 

The University also received an Excellence and Innovation Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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