Novel technology isolates unknown viruses

Tools

Researchers at Saint Louis University have developed a way to screen for previously unknown viruses.

Their technique involves next-generation genetic sequencing approach called transcriptome subtraction, according to an article published at Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

Taking advantage of the complete sequencing of the human genome, the method consists of filtering out all human material from blood serum, then filtering out known viral genetic material. That which remains is unknown.

"Once we remove the known portions, we're ultimately left with new viruses," Adrian Di Bisceglie, M.D., chairman of the department of internal medicine, said in an announcement. The new viruses then require further investigation.

One issue the researchers overcame was the rapid deterioration of RNA in blood samples, which generally leaves too little material for study. The amplification technique they developed for this material has immediate application in clinical situations with an unknown virus, such as the SARS-like outbreak in Saudi Arabia, they said. It also could be valuable in areas such as biodefense with the need to quickly spot bio-threats.

The university has applied for a patent on the technology with the aim of commercializing it. 

In its budget request for 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making the upgrade of its tools for tracking infectious disease outbreaks a priority. It has asked for $40 million to develop the molecular-sequencing tools and bioinformatics capacity to more effectively track threats such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the H7N9 influenza that has killed 20 people in China.

In the fight against superbugs, researchers say, biosensors could be the answer. They are working toward using simple viruses that can target and kill bacteria to make antimicrobial materials to be used in hospitals.

Meanwhile, researchers in Toronto have developed a new tool from that identifies air travelers with infectious diseases. It's designed to help public health agencies determine whether to screen passengers arriving from or leaving areas of infectious outbreaks.

To learn more:
- read the announcement

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