Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Sequencing of virus DNA may help fight common cold

BLOOMBERG

A weapon against the germ that triggers the common cold could be discovered now that scientists have analyzed the DNA of an entire family of cold viruses, a study said.

Colds are difficult to treat and prevent because the rhinovirus that causes them takes many forms, becoming elusive targets for drugs, said Stephen Liggett, a geneticist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore who led the study.

Liggett and his team sequenced all 99 known strains of the rhinovirus in a report in the journal Science that traced the evolution of the germ.

The full sets of genes, or genomes, described in the study show the viruses have a few regions that consistently appear and may be vulnerable to medications, the researchers said in Sciencexpress, the online version of the journal.

The analysis also found a potential new species of the virus for the first time.

“I’m hoping this will lead to interventions that can be fast-tracked and applied to a very practical and worthy cause,” Liggett said yesterday in a telephone interview. “All these genome sequences are in the public domain now so they can be mined by interested people.”

Colds and their complications, such as asthma attacks, cost as much as US$100 billion annually in care and lost work, Liggett said.

He became interested in tracking down the gene sequences of cold germs because of his interest in finding the connection between colds and asthma.

“It became clear that there was a missing link here,” he said. “About 50 percent of all asthma attacks are caused by rhinovirus infections. So we needed to understand more about it. Like it or not, it’s part of the equation.”

Only eight rhinovirus genomes had been sequenced when he started the study, Liggett said.

New sequencing technology from Illumina Inc, Roche Holding AG’s 454 unit, and Applied Biosystems Inc, helped speed the three-year effort.

The study showed that viruses within divisions of the rhinovirus family, such as its B group, are far more diverse than had been thought.

He also found a potential new species of rhinovirus, called HRV-D.

Liggett said he is conducting a nationwide sampling of rhinovirus infections to find more genomes and further expand the list of known rhinoviruses.

With current technology, each virus genome can be sequenced at a cost of about US$100, he said.

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