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Trace Their Path

DNA sequencing is increasingly being used as a tool to combat drug-resistant bacteria, writes the University of Cambridge's Lara Marks at The Conversation.

Its potential, she says, was first noted in 2011 when there were intermittent MRSA infections at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge. By sequencing the infecting bacteria, the researchers learned that they were all related, suggesting an outbreak rather than sporadic, unrelated infections. The approach was also applied to find a staff member harboring the bacteria, and once that person was treated, the outbreak subsided.

Since then, Marks notes that sequencing has since been used to better understand a MRSA outbreak in Thailand and an Acinetobacter baumannii outbreak in the UK. It also helped solve the mystery of two patients, one from the UK and the other from South Africa, with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, finding that they'd been on the same hospital ward in 2008.

However, Marks says that the lack of tools to automatically analyze and interpret genomic data may prevent its wider adoption to combat drug-resistant bacteria. She adds, though, that researchers in California are working on a web-based system to track HIV infections.

"If this can be applied to other infections, including bacterial ones, genome sequencing could become routine in hospitals worldwide," she says.