|NOTE: Media are invited to join a teleconference on April
30 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. ET. To participate, contact Robert Koenig
of TIGR at (301) 838-5880 prior to 9:00 a.m. on April 30.
Anthrax Genome Decoded
The complete genetic blueprint of Bacillus anthracis
the microbe that gained notoriety during the 2001 anthrax mail attacks
is now known, researchers announced today. A formidable bioterrorist
threat and the cause of potentially fatal inhalational anthrax,
B. anthracis differs very little from the common soil bacterium
that is its near relative, the scientists discovered. Those genetic
differences are enough to give B. anthracis its disease-causing
properties and may also give scientists valuable clues to its vulnerabilities.
The team of researchers supported by the National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other federal agencies
was led by Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D., and Timothy Read, Ph.D., at
The Institute of Genomic Research in Rockville, MD. The complete
sequence of the 5.2 million base pairs of the DNA in B. anthracis'
single chromosome is published in the May 1 issue of Nature.
"The pace of microbial genomics research continues to be rapid;
B. anthracis is just the latest of dozens of important human
pathogens to be sequenced," notes NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci,
M.D. "As ever more precise details emerge about the genetic make-up
of these organisms, our ability to design effective drugs and vaccines
against the diseases they cause is greatly improved," he adds. To
date, NIAID has supported sequencing efforts for more than 30 medically
important microbes, many of which cause infectious diseases or are
potential bioterror agents (see http://www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/genomes).
Dr. Read and his colleagues compared an isolate of the Ames strain
of B. anthracis with two closely related Bacillus
bacteria. "There is remarkably little difference among these genomes,"
says Dr. Read. "In the 5,000 or more genes we analyzed, we found
only 150 or so significant differences."
Dr. Read and his coworkers found a number of genes encoding proteins that B.
anthracis may need to enter its host's cells. These could provide
targets for drugs designed against the organism, says Dr. Read.
Unlike its near relatives, B. anthracis possesses genes
that give it the ability to thrive on protein-rich matter such as
the decaying animal bodies it frequently grows on, the scientists
discovered. Their analysis also found that B. anthracis has
an enhanced capacity to scavenge iron, which it may use to survive
in its host.
Using techniques of comparative genomics, the investigators gleaned
several clues about the possible evolutionary pathway taken by B.
anthracis ancestors. The similarities between certain B.
anthracis genes and those of microbes that infect insects, for
example, suggest that a recent ancestor of B. anthracis may
have infected insects. Of note is a similarity between one gene
of Yersinia pestis, which causes plague in mammals and can
also infect insects, and a gene in B. anthracis, which infects
NIAID supported the anthrax sequencing through the pathogen functional genomics resource center at TIGR. This initiative, launched by NIAID in 2001, trains researchers in the latest techniques in functional genomics. It also serves as a reagent repository. The center's resources are available to the scientific community through online and other services. Besides NIAID, support for the anthrax sequencing effort came from the United States Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy and the United Kingdom's Defense Sciences Technology Laboratory.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.
The teleconference on Wednesday April 30 will include investigator Timothy Read, Ph.D., of TIGR; TIGR
President Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D.; and Maria Y. Giovanni, Ph.D., assistant director for microbial genomics and related technology development at NIAID.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available
on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
Reference: T Read et al. The genome sequence of Bacillus
anthracis Ames and comparison to closely related bacteria. Nature