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Harnessing the Web and supercomputers to track pathogens as they evolve
Date:4/12/2010

Pathogens can now be easily tracked in time and space as they evolve, an advance that could revolutionize both public health and inform national security in the fight against infectious diseases. Developed by researchers that include scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, Supramap (supramap.osu.edu) is a new, powerful, web-based application that maps genetic mutations like those among the different strains of avian influenza onto the globe. The new application is published in the early online edition of Cladistics.

"Supramap does more that put points on a mapit is tracking a pathogen's evolution," says Daniel A. Janies, first author of the paper and an associate professor at Ohio State University. "We package the tools in an easy-to-use web-based application so that you don't need a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and computer science to understand the trajectory and transmission of a disease."

"This tool also has a lot of predictive power," says lead author Ward Wheeler, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. "If the movement of a pathogen is related to bird flyways, and those routes are shifting because of something like climate change, we can predict where the disease might logically emerge next."

In recent years, the collection of genomic sequences of the coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome (SARS) and various strains of the influenza A virus have become an vital part of fighting outbreaks of these infectious diseases. The initial jump of a pathogen into humans has become increasingly important to understand because of growing human-animal contact and global travel. Researchers now know, for example, that SARS has a deep evolutionary origin in bats. Another recent use of genetics, geography, and the phylogenetic trees that map the evolutionary relationships among different strains of pathogens is t
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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History
Source:Eurekalert  

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