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Roche Donates 454 GS FLX for Google-Sponsored Disease-Monitoring Project in Africa

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By Julia Karow

Roche said this week that it has donated a 454 Genome Sequencer FLX for a joint project with Google.org that aims to predict and prevent emerging viral diseases in East Africa.

Late last year, Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, granted $5 million to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Icipe, and its partners to support the discovery and surveillance of insect-carried disease in East Africa.

Besides Icipe, project partners are the International Livestock Research Institute; Kenya's Ministry of Health; Kenya's Ministry of Public Health; the Kenya Medical Research Institute; Livestock, the Department of Veterinary Services and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute; and Wildlife, the Kenya Wildlife Services.

The 454 instrument will be installed at the Nairobi laboratories of ILRI and a regional joint venture called Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa, or BecA. The ILRI-BecA hub provides a biosciences research and bioinformatics platform that is linked to a network of laboratories distributed throughout Eastern and Central Africa.

The project involving the 454 platform will initially focus on arboviruses, arthropod-borne viruses that often cause emergent diseases and are transmitted by blood-sucking insects and other arthropods.

The first disease to be monitored is Rift Valley Fever, a lethal disease of livestock and humans that is spread by mosquito vectors.

"We will be fortunate to have a GS FLX instrument initially donated to support the arbovirus infection surveillance in Kenya, with plans to subsequently train and bring on board other research partners in East Africa," said Christian Borgemeister, director general of Icipe, in a statement.

"We are confident that access to the 454 sequencing systems will improve monitoring of novel infectious diseases and enable faster discovery in case of an outbreak," said Chris McLeod, CEO of 454 Life Sciences, in a statement.

Under the initiative, researchers will survey human, livestock, wildlife and vector populations to monitor the circulation, transmission, and maintenance of the RVF and viruses; use genomics and knowledge management systems to learn about the dynamics and diversity of the viruses and their vectors and hosts; and link the information to existing risk-information and decision-support tools to provide early warning of disease outbreaks and to enable a rapid response to them.

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