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Posted: December 14, 2009

New Centre for Molecular Epidemiology to put bacteria on the world map

(Nanowerk News) Today, it takes about a week to determine the species, strain and antimicrobial resistance of pathogenic bacteria. Such information is necessary to diagnose and treat infectious diseases.
At the same time, diseases are rarely purely a national phenomena. In fact, bacteria don’t give a damn about national boundaries. They spread easily and swiftly. So a problem in one country is usually a problem for all countries.
This calls for new technological solutions, where it is possible to quickly analyse bacteria and collect data in a systematic way and thereby establish global surveillance which can contribute to reduce and prevent the spread of contagious diseases. The new Centre for Molecular Epidemiology at Technical University of Denmark (DTU) aims to develop both.
This has been made possible by a grant of DKK 36 million from the Danish Council for Strategic Research to DTU. Other project partners are the World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the laboratories of the US Department of Defense and the research institute TGen as well as Novozymes and Danisco, which have committed themselves to contributing an additional just over DKK 25 million to the partnership.
Promising technologies
In ten years’ time, most if not all microbiological laboratories in the world will have a so-called sequenator at their disposal which will make it possible to quickly determine the DNA of bacteria, the researchers predict. The prospects are that laboratories, hospitals and doctors from all over the world will send bacterial DNA sequences electronically to a server for further analysis. The researchers expect up to 100,000 DNA sequences from bacteria to be analysed each year in Denmark alone, while the figure may reach approx. half a billion a year worldwide.
The centre will develop software and hardware solutions which can handle these large volumes of data, analyse DNA sequences and swiftly return clinically, biologically and epidemiologically relevant information on bacteria species, strains, antimicrobial resistance and treatment options as an open source solution.
The plan is to start with salmonella, staphylococci and coli bacteria – with the potential for expanding the collaboration to also include viruses, parasites and other bacteria. In the long term, the system will also be able to include the identification of ‘good’ bacteria for industrial uses.
Global surveillance
The centre will also develop an Internet platform which will show all the data on a world map to visualise the global spread of bacteria. It will be a bit like a Google Bacterium which will be accessible to everyone on the Internet.
“Putting bacteria on the world map in this way can be used to identify outbreaks and find sources of infection much faster than we can envisage today. The technological solutions will also reduce the time it takes to diagnose patients and make it possible to start effective treatment much earlier than is possible at the moment,” says the centre’s coordinator Professor Frank Møller Aarestrup from the National Food Institute,Technical University of Denmark.
“The Centre for Molecular Epidemiology will put DTU on the world map as a global centre for analysing DNA from bacteria, developing bioinformatics technology and for global surveillance and control of pathogenic bacteria. This is a result of exemplary collaboration between DTU and strong and engaged international partners with the potential to realise significant synergies through the combination of bioinformatics, clinical and basic microbiology, disease surveillance and epidemiology,” says President Lars Pallesen.
Source: Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
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