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Lineage of Anthrax Terror Strain Confirmed, Increased Use of Genomics Will Track Pathogens

SAN FRANCISCO, May 9 - Scientists from The Institute for Genomic Research and NorthernArizonaUniversityfound new genetic markers that distinguish the anthrax used in last fall's mail terror attack in Floridafrom closely related strains.


The research confirms that the Bacillus anthracis isolated from a terror attack in Floridais different from closely related anthrax strains, the scientists reported. Researchers, using a comparison of the whole-genome sequence of the Floridasample with other strains, also confirmed that the anthrax discovered in Floridawas derived from the Amesstrain initially isolated in 1981 from a Texascow.


The scientists found 60 new genomic markers that include four "high quality" SNPs that were found to divide a collection of anthrax isolates into distinct families, according to the paper's authors.


The researchers concluded that the results justified the genome-based approach to analyzing dangerous pathogens and should be broadly adopted. Results of their study appear today in Science Express, an electronic forum for research selected for publication in Science.


"Genome-based analysis will provide a powerful new tool for investigation of unexpected outbreaks of infectious disease, whether these represent biological warfare attacks, emerging agents, or more familiar pathogens," the authors, lead by Claire Fraser, president of TIGR, concluded. "To lay the groundwork for future investigations, databases derived from genome-based surveys of natural variation in all major pathogens, not just potential biological warfare agents, should be constructed."


"These findings clearly demonstrate the value of microbial genome sequencing as a tool in defending against bioterrorism and in understanding the variations and relatedness of microbes in nature," Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, said in a statement. "We at NSF are very pleased that our ability to expedite the review and funding of proposals submitted in response to national needs has brought these timely results."


The research was also funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Office of Naval Research.

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