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NIAID launches influenza genome sequencing project

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"Our goal is to provide scientists with the infrastructure they need to uncover potential targets for new vaccines, therapies and diagnostics against influenza," says Maria Y. Giovanni, Ph.D., who oversees the NIAID Microbial Sequencing Centers initiative. "Putting influenza sequence data in the public domain will help epidemiologists and other researchers improve their understanding of the overall molecular evolution of influenza viruses and the genetic factors that determine their virulence."

"This project is the influenza-virus equivalent of the human genome project," says Robert G. Webster, Ph.D., professor of virology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St. Jude has a repository containing more than 12,000 avian influenza viruses collected over the past 27 years and will be the site for the sequencing of their genomes.

Despite annual vaccination programs, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States each year because of influenza, according to CDC. Influenza-related deaths average nearly 36,000 annually. Of increasing concern in Asia, avian influenza strains such as H5N1 continually mutate as they circulate among poultry, sometimes developing the ability to infect humans. Scientists are worried that such an avian virus could eventually mutate enough to be able to spread from person to person, resulting in a fast-moving, global pandemic.

David J. Lipman, M.D., director of NCBI, says that the whole genome sequence data generated by the influenza genomics project will be important references for researchers who study how influenza viruses cause disease, conduct global surveillance of influenza activity, and assist in the selection of the most appropriate virus strains to include in the annual influenza vaccine. The sequence information will provide a larger and more representative sample for influenza than previously available to the public. The project will also enhance pandemic preparedness efforts
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Contact: NIAID Press Office
niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
15-Nov-2004


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