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Call for human virus survey

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A global monitoring system should be established to detect and analyse threatening new viruses, say researchers.

A global monitoring system should be established to detect and analyse threatening new viruses, say researchers. Such a programme would routinely screen human blood and rapidly identify new viruses, such as Sars, that might become a threat to human health. Scientists want to sequence the genetic structure of the collected viruses to form a database of the genetic code of all those associated with humans. They are calling it the Human Virome Project. It is the brainchild of Norman Anderson of the privately funded Viral Defense Foundation in Maryland, US. His proposal is contained in the journal ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases’ published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. Increasing threatThe threat from new viruses as well as from those that break out from their normal areas of infection is an ever present one. Some scientists say that clearing tropical forests is bound to allow unknown and dangerous viruses to escape. In the past few months Sars, Monkeypox and West Nile virus have all hit the headlines. When such outbreaks occur it is important to identify and marshal as much information about the new virus as possible so that potential treatments can be investigated. Consequently, a database of known virus genomes would prove invaluable. For example, genetic information about coronaviruses helped scientists to rapidly identify the Sars genome, determine what family of virus it belonged to, and quantify how it causes damage. Blood and seawaterThe new plan is to collect blood samples from laboratories and hospitals every week. The blood would be filtered to extract viruses. At centres spread over the world, robotic genetic sequencers would start to unravel the genetic structure of the viruses. Things are not quite as straightforward as sequencing the human genome however. Not all viruses have DNA. Instead, their genetic code is carried in its sister molecule, RNA. This means that viral RNA would have to be transcribed into DNA, which is a tricky process. On the other hand, virus genomes are small and therefore should be sequenced relatively swiftly. The Human Virome Project is similar to one being carried out by scientists at San Diego State University in California. There, marine biologists are attempting to sequence the genome of microbes and viruses that live in seawater. The project is still in its early stages but the researchers say it could be up and running in about a year if it attracts sufficient funding. (Source: BBC, Dr David Whitehouse,Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK)

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Posted On: 2 July, 2003
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

Created by: myVMC