Tri-Cities scientists use data software to track virus threats

Scientists with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory started using 'BioFeeds' two years ago

RICHLAND, Wash. – What if scientists could predict a virus or disease outbreak to allow government entities the time to prepare a response?

For the most part, that’s what BioFeeds, a data surveillance software does.

The software, which was developed by experts at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, takes thousands of open-source data like news articles from across the world and an algorithm analyzes the text. From there, scientists like Dr. Lauren Charles, can quickly read through what’s happening in other countries and release that information to organizations like local and federal government entities.

Dr. Charles said BioFeeds played a huge part in the detection and response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In late 2019, when the virus popped up on Biofeed’s radar, analysts were able to gather data to learn how the virus was spreading throughout the country and if it was a threat to the U.S.

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“The tool tells the story of COVID as it’s unfolding, we’ve got 15,000 different tags that look at the different types of threats but also specific event details impacts on humans, animals, different types of social disruption and critical infrastructure,” Dr. Charles said.

Dr. Charles explained that BioFeeds was developed for sustainability. This means, as the software continues to be used, it learns through Artificial Intelligence.

As the virus threatened the U.S., Dr. Charles said the software made it easier for scientists to gather pertinent information and release it to the government or medical officials.

“Really giving highly detailed reports on the situation as it’s unfolding and help response,” she added.

COVID-19 in Washington

The software isn’t limited to virus or disease tracking in humans. BioFeeds can also find diseases or chemical issues that could affects plants anywhere in the world, although Dr. Charles said their strongest surveillance is in the U.S.

On top of COVID-19, scientists and data analysts have kept track of a Dengue Fever outbreak in Argentina and cases of Bubonic Plague in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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