Perlegen Sciences Awarded Biodefense Research Grant for Salmonella Studies

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Perlegen Sciences, Inc. today announced that it has received an award from the National Institutes of Health to use its high-throughput oligonucleotide microarray technology to sequence the genomes of numerous strains of Salmonella to discover genetic variation among the strains. This knowledge could be valuable in identifying the source of Salmonella in an outbreak, either natural or caused by bioterrorists.

More than 2,000 strains of Salmonella are capable of causing disease in humans. Salmonella is a major cause of food poisoning, affecting about 1.5 million Americans per year. Salmonella infection can also result in typhoid fever, which affects more than 16 million people worldwide, and causes approximately 600,000 fatalities per year. The growing incidence of infections involving drug resistant strains of Salmonella has raised concerns over the impact of Salmonella in a bioterror attack.

Salmonella was the first agent to be used in a major bioterror attack in the United States. In 1984, more than 750 residents of Wasco County, Oregon were afflicted with Salmonella-induced food poisoning and 45 people were hospitalized. These individuals were victims of a group trying to interfere with local elections by disabling potential voters.

When a bioterrorism attack occurs, such as the Anthrax attack in late 2001, it is important to quickly identify the agent, find the source of the agent, and apprehend the perpetrators, before more harm can be done. Similarly, prompt identification of the source of natural, food-borne disease outbreaks can limit the number of affected individuals, saving lives. This National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases-funded research will help enable Perlegen Sciences to develop tools for rapidly and uniquely identifying different strains of Salmonella.

Perlegen Sciences has applied its re-sequencing technology to the entire human genome, discovering over 1.5 million positions of genetic variation (termed single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) between people. By comprehensively identifying positions of variation between different Salmonella strains, Perlegen will discover "signature SNPs" that can be used to uniquely "fingerprint" different strains. In the event of an outbreak, DNA fingerprints of Salmonella samples isolated from infected individuals can be compared to those of strains associated with suspect sources of contamination, thereby identifying the source of the outbreak.

"This molecular forensics approach could be extended to a variety of microbial pathogens and potential bioterror agents," said Andrew Sparks, PhD, director of association studies at Perlegen and principal investigator for this study.

Collaborating in this research is Gary Andersen, PhD, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and an expert on pathogenic organisms and diagnostic assays. "It is exciting to be able to apply Perlegen's high throughput sequencing technology to advancing our bioterror preparedness. In addition, we anticipate that some insights into the biology of Salmonella will result from these efforts."

Source: Perlegen Sciences, Inc.

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