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Researchers use genomics to investigate TB outbreak
Date:2/25/2011

Vancouver, BC - Scientists supported by Genome BC have set a new standard for studying outbreaks of infectious disease by combining advanced genomics with a detailed map of the social relationships between cases to investigate a recent outbreak of tuberculosis in a BC community.

The study tracked 41 individuals who developed tuberculosis: patient interviews revealed a tightly-knit community where most patients knew one another, while DNA fingerprinting of the bacterial samples from each individual showed them to be identical to each other. These two factors together made reconstructing the outbreak family tree impossible.

In order to get a more detailed picture of how TB spread through the community, researchers from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and Simon Fraser University turned to whole genome sequencing to discern subtle genetic differences between different bacterial strains. These slight differences allowed them to identify individual transmission events, in which one patient can be identified as the most likely source of the subsequent patient's infection. By looking at all of the transmission events revealed by the data, the researchers were able to identify not only where the outbreak organism had originated, but also how it had moved throughout the community.

"Genome sequencing used to be prohibitively expensive, so it was simply impossible to sequence the bacteria from all the patients involved in an outbreak and we had to go with the next best thing, DNA fingerprinting," says Dr. Jennifer Gardy at the BCCDC. "Now, however, sequencing tens, hundreds, or thousands of bacterial isolates is very doable in a reasonable timeframe and at a manageable cost. We can figure out how these bacteria are related to each other by comparing their genome sequences, and when we overlay that information onto a map of the social relationships between cases we can actually reconstruct
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Contact: Jenny Boon
jboon@genomebc.ca
778-327-8374
Genome BC
Source:Eurekalert

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