NIAID to map flu virus genomes

Nov 18, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The federal government announced this week it is launching a campaign to map the genetic blueprint of thousands of human and avian influenza viruses in an effort to better understand how flu viruses evolve, spread, and cause disease.

In a Nov 15 news release, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said it will work with several other institutions on the genome sequencing project. The effort could reduce the impact of annual flu outbreaks and improve knowledge of how pandemic flu viruses emerge, the agency said.

"Our goal is to provide scientists with the infrastructure they need to uncover potential targets for new vaccines, therapies and diagnostics against influenza," the NIAID's Maria Y. Giovanni, PhD, said in the news release.

The effort will be conducted in part by the NIAID Microbial Sequencing Center at The Institute for Genomics Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., officials said. The NIAID will publish the sequence information through GenBank, an international online database funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and through the NIAID Bioinformatics Resource Center, an online collection of genetic sequence data with analysis tools.

"This project is the influenza-virus equivalent of the human genome project," Robert G. Webster, PhD, professor of virology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, commented in the news release. St. Jude has a collection of more than 12,000 avian flu viruses and will sequence their genomes.

The NIAID said the project will enhance preparedness for flu pandemics by publishing genetic sequences of emerging avian flu viruses, allowing scientists to analyze the strains and begin to develop vaccines against them.

Besides TIGR and St. Jude, NIAID partners in the project include the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the NIH's National Library of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health in Troy, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC.

Also this week, the NIAID announced the launch of an updated Web site on flu research for the media and the public. Officials said the "Focus on the Flu" site includes information on cutting-edge NIAID-supported flu research; graphics that illuminate concepts important in flu research, such as reverse genetics and antigenic shift and drift; health-related fact sheets; recent NIAID publications and congressional testimony; and other resources.

See also:

Nov 15 NIAID news release on flu virus genome project
http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2004/Pages/flugenome.aspx

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