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Pathogenesis Australian Team Tackles Leptospira Genome

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Ben Adler’s early fascination with leptospirosis, an infectious disease in mammals that can prove fatal, bridges a notable scientific career to his current microbiology post at Melbourne’s Monash University. Since last year, Adler, an inveterate traveler, has led an international team researching the Leptospira borgpetersenii genome sequencing project.

In collaboration with Richard Zuerner of the US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, the genome project takes place at the Bacterial Pathogenesis Research Group at Monash University, in conjunction with the Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium and the Australian Genome Research Facility at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council program in medical genomics funds the project.

Using plasmid libraries and PCR for filling gaps, completion of the shotgun sequencing phase of the Leptospira genome has yielded more than 98 percent coverage to date. Genome-scale sequence comparison identified several regions of interest for pathogenesis or immunity.

“My major research interest has been infectious diseases at the molecular level and the development of vaccines, Leptospira being among the few common pathogens still to be conquered,” Adler says.

“The current study will allow us to identify new genes, gene homologs, operons, and gene regulatory elements and will expand our knowledge of the genetic loci, organization, and regulation of gene expression in Leptospira. It will also identify genes whose products have potential significance in pathogenesis and immunity,” Adler adds.

Recognized in North Queensland, Australia, among cane cutters in 1934, leptospirosis is an acute febrile syndrome affecting the hepatic, renal, and central nervous systems.

“Despite leptospirosis having a significant impact on the health of both humans and domestic animals, our knowledge about pathogenesis and molecular biology of the infectious agents is limited,” Adler says.

— Lon Bram

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