NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - An international research team has released the first data from a project to sequence the genome of an extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis bacterium with the aim of developing a test that could rapidly diagnose the disease, Harvard University’s School of Public Health said today.
The so-called XDR strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was linked to more 50 deaths in a recent outbreak in the KwaZulu-Natal province South Africa. To date, more than 300 XDR cases have been identified in that region.
The researchers said they have released the data in advance of publication due to the danger of the disease.
"It is important that genomic data be made immediately available, particularly to researchers in areas most heavily burdened by disease,” said Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, which led the project.
Other collaborators include Megan Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health and Willem Sturm and colleagues at the Nelson Mandela Medical School in South Africa.
As part of the project, the Broad Institute sequenced the genomes of several multi-drug-resistant and drug-sensitive isolates of M. tuberculosis.
The researchers said that initial comparisons of the genome sequences indicate that the drug-resistant and drug-sensitive strains differ “at only a few dozen locations” along the 4-megabase genome. The analysis revealed some known drug-resistance genes as well as some additional genes that may also be important to the spread of TB, they said.
"By looking at the genomes of different strains, we can learn how the tuberculosis microbe outwits current drugs and how new drugs might be designed,” said Murray of the Broad Institute.
Murray also said the research could enable the future development of a rapid diagnostic test for TB that would help prevent the spread of the most virulent strains.
Data from the project is available here.