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Genome of potential bioterror agent seqenced

fferent host animals. The TIGR analysis revealed that the major genomic differences result from "phage insertions" that is, genes that originated in phages (viruses that infect bacteria), which then inserted them into the Brucella genomes.

"These are closely-related pathogens that cause essentially the same disease, but in different host animals --swine and goats," said Paulsen of the two Brucella species. "At present, we know very little about why a pathogen chooses one host and not another fundamental issues if we want to understand the evolution of human pathogens."

At the moment, there are no acceptable vaccines to immunize humans against B. suis, which is seldom fatal to people but can cause a severe long-term debilitating illness. Persons contract the disease through contact with the tissues of infected animals, by eating contaminated foods, or by inhaling the pathogen.

B. suis is considered to be a potential bioweapon/bioterror agent, selected for "weaponization" in the 1950s because it is highly infectious, debilitates people without usually killing them, and is not transmitted from human to human. Its flu-like disease symptoms make early diagnosis difficult and treating the disease requires prolonged antibiotic therapy.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Army had developed artillery shells and bombs armed with B. suis. But that stockpile was destroyed after the U.S. government halted its biowarfare program in 1969. Other countries also developed Brucella weapons during the Cold War.

Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D., president and director of TIGR, said: "The B. suis sequencing project provides important new information about this infectious agent. Genomics has helped us understand more about this pathogen and its closest relatives and defines a new starting point for development of novel methods to diagnose and treat the disease it causes."


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Contact: Robert Koenig
rkoenig@tigr.org
301-838-5880
The Institute for Genomic Research
23-Sep-2002


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