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Anthrax: 'A soil bug gone bad'

Rockville, MD Scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and collaborators have deciphered the genome of the notorious Ames strain of the bacterium that causes anthrax, Bacillus anthracis. It is the first anthrax strain to be completely sequenced and analyzed.

That genome analysis, published in the May 1, 2003, issue of Nature, found only small differences in gene content that distinguish the deadly anthrax bacillus from the common soil bacterium, Bacillus cereus, that thrives in gardens across the globe.

There may be no more than about 150 significant differences in the 5,000-plus genes in the chromosomes of those related bacterial species, says TIGR researcher Tim Read, the first author of the Nature letter. Other differences are found on small circular strands of DNA, called plasmids, which are key to the virulence of B. anthracis.

Those natural genomic differences including the plasmid-encoded genes that make the anthrax bacterium toxic and virulent in attacking human and animal hosts have made B. anthracis a potent pathogen. Over the last seven decades, the anthrax bacillus was developed and weaponized as a biowarfare/bioterror agent by several national programs, from Japan in the 1930s to Iraq in the 1980s.

TIGRs President, Claire M. Fraser, who supervised the anthrax genome project, says that the DNA sequence provides an invaluable tool for researchers who are seeking to develop new drugs or vaccines against anthrax, as well as for others who are investigating better ways to detect or trace the pathogen.

Deciphering the anthrax genome is important to a wide range of biomedical and biodefense research, says Fraser. The genome sequence will benefit research projects to find targets for new drugs and vaccines as well as to improve anthrax detection and diagnosis. Since the B. anthracis sequencing project was started in 1999, TIGR had been posting preliminary anthrax genome data already used by rese
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Contact: Robert Koenig
rkoenig@tigr.org
301-838-5880
The Institute for Genomic Research
30-Apr-2003


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