Broad Decodes Pathogens
The Broad Institutea genomics research collaboration among MIT, Harvard University, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Researchhas established a new Microbial Sequencing Center to sequence the genomes of more than a hundred organisms that cause disease or that might be used as agents of bioterrorism. The center, which is funded through a $75 million contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, plans to release the sequencing data on a publicly accessible website. Researchers will be able to download the information to answer deceivingly simple questions such as, How do these pathogens cause disease? What drugs might be used against them? Why are some resistant to a variety of drugs? Comparing the sequence of one bugs genome to anothers will give researchers small clues to the answers. For instance, comparing a dangerous bacterium to a benign relative could let researchers pin down sequences that are unique to the pathogen. This may help identify the genes that lead to virulence.Chad Nusbaum, codirector of genome sequencing and analysis at the center, says that its sequencing machines push through millions of DNA sequences a month. I dont believe anyone is sequencing at our scale, he says. For now, the center is focused on eight clinical variants of tuberculosis and on a bacterium that causes tularemia, a disease that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia. Although its name might not be familiar, researchers are concerned that this organism could be used as an agent of bioterrorism. Knowing its sequence may help researchers avert medical catastrophes.