Scientists find new markers for anthrax isolates

In a pioneering use of genomics as a tool for the forensic analysis of microbes, scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., and at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Az., have found new genetic markers that distinguish the Bacillus anthracis isolate that was used in last falls bioterror attack in Boca Raton, Florida, from closely related anthrax strains. Their findings, posted on Science Express on May 9 and scheduled for later publication in Science, demonstrate for the first time that the analysis of the genomes of microbial pathogens can be an effective method of finding new genetic fingerprints that can help trace the differences among almost identical strains of microbes such as anthrax. Previous genetic-marker analysis had focused on a limited number of DNA segments, rather than the entire genomic sequence. Citing those findings, TIGR President Claire M. Fraser called for the development of a comprehensive database of genomic analyses that could help investigators quickly pinpoint the sources of many different strains of anthrax and other potential biological warfare agents. That, in turn, would help scientists track down the source of the microbes and also help researchers develop better vaccines or medical treatments to counter the pathogens. Fraser is a member of a National Research Council panel that is drawing up a report about how scientific research can help counter bioterrorism. Genome-based analysis will provide a powerful new tool for investigating unexpected disease outbreaks whether they are bioterrorism attacks or natural outbreaks of more familiar pathogens, said Fraser. A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the sequencing of the Florida anthrax isolate, which TIGR compared to its nearly-completed sequence of another Ames-strain isolate obtained from Porton Down, U.K. The Porton sequencing project, begun in 1999, was funded by grants from the U.S. Office of Naval Rese

Contact: Robert Koenig
The Institute for Genomic Research

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