Researchers create method to rapidly identify specific strains of illness

July 10, 2013, Boston University Medical Center

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and George Washington University (GWU) have developed a method to rapidly identify pathogenic species and strains causing illnesses, such as pneumonia, that could help lead to earlier detection of disease outbreaks and pinpoint effective treatments more quickly. The findings are featured online in the journal Genome Research.

Emerging have revolutionized the collection of genomic data for bioforensics, biosurveillance and for use in clinical settings. However, new approaches are being developed to analyze these large volumes of genetic data. Principal investigator Evan Johnson, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at BUSM, and Keith Crandall, PhD, director of GW's Computational Biology Institute, have created a called Pathoscope to identify pathogenic genetic sequences from infected tissue samples.

This unique approach can accurately discriminate between closely related strains of the same species with little coverage of the pathogenic genome. The method also can determine the complete composition of known pathogenic and benign organisms in a biological sample. No other method can accurately identify multiple species or substrains in such a direct and automatic way. Current methods, such as the standard detection or microscope observation, are often imperfect and time-consuming.

"Pathoscope is like completing a complex . Instead of manually assembling the puzzle, which can take days or weeks of tedious effort, we use a statistical algorithm that can determine how the picture should look without actually putting it together," said Johnson. "Our method can characterize a biological sample faster, more accurately and in a more automated fashion than any other approach out there."

This work will be relevant in a broad range of scenarios. For example, in hospitals, this sequencing method will allow for rapid screening of thousands of infectious pathogens simultaneously, while being sensitive enough to monitor disease outbreaks caused by specific pathogenic strains. Veterinarians can even apply the method in their practices. This research is also applicable outside of clinical settings, allowing officials to quickly identify agents of bioterrorism (e.g. in a tainted letter) and harmful pathogens on hard surfaces, soil, water or in food products.

"This approach has the ability to drastically change the process for identifying and combating pathogens, whether they're in a hospital, veterinarian's office or salmon stream," Crandall said. Researchers plan to conduct more studies to further verify the efficacy of their approach, and will soon begin to work with the aquaculture industry, helping fishermen with water-quality surveillance.

Explore further: Genome sequencing provides unprecedented insight into causes of pneumococcal disease

Related Stories

Genome sequencing provides unprecedented insight into causes of pneumococcal disease

May 5, 2013
A new study led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK has, for the first time, used genome sequencing technology to track the changes in a bacterial population ...

Genomics may help ID organisms in outbreaks of serious infectious disease

April 9, 2013
Researchers have been able to reconstruct the genome sequence of an outbreak strain of Shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) using metagenomics (the direct sequencing of DNA extracted from microbiologically complex samples), ...

Recommended for you

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Two new breast cancer genes emerge from Lynch syndrome gene study

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian have identified two new breast cancer genes. Having one of the genes—MSH6 and PMS2—approximately doubles a woman's risk of developing breast ...

Can mice really mirror humans when it comes to cancer?

January 18, 2018
A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to researching cancer.

A centuries-old math equation used to solve a modern-day genetics challenge

January 18, 2018
Researchers developed a new mathematical tool to validate and improve methods used by medical professionals to interpret results from clinical genetic tests. The work was published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.