The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced a joint influenza genome sequencing project with several scientific partners. The project will help researchers understand how flu viruses evolve, spread and cause disease. According to its leaders, it has the potential to minimize the impact of annual flu outbreaks and to improve scientific knowledge of the emergence of pandemic flu viruses.
NIAIDs collaborators include the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the NIH National Library of Medicine; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.; the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health in Albany, NY; the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC; and The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md.
The sequencing effort, to be conducted in part by the
Influenza viruses present formidable scientific and public health challenges because they undergo continual genetic changes that enable them to evade the bodys immune response and sometimes become more virulent, says Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of NIAID. This project not only provides a valuable resource for current influenza researchers, it also will attract investigators from other fields. We anticipate that these data will be used to recognize patterns of genetic changes and illuminate important questions such as how avian influenza viruses adapt to infect humans.
Our goal is to provide scientists with the infrastructure they need to uncover potential targets for new vaccines, therapies and diagnostics against influenza, says Maria Y. Giovanni, PhD, who oversees the NIAID Microbial Sequencing Centers initiative. Putting influenza sequence data in the public domain will help epidemiologists and other researchers improve their understanding of the overall molecular evolution of influenza viruses and the genetic factors that determine their virulence.
This project is the influenza-virus equivalent of the human genome project, says Robert G. Webster, PhD, professor of virology at St. Jude Childrens
Despite annual vaccination programs, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the
David J. Lipman, MD, director of NCBI, says that the whole genome sequence data generated by the influenza genomics project will be important references for researchers who study how influenza viruses cause disease, conduct global surveillance of influenza activity, and assist in the selection of the most appropriate virus strains to include in the annual influenza vaccine. The sequence information will provide a larger and more representative sample for influenza than previously available to the public. The project will also enhance pandemic preparedness efforts by publishing genomic sequences of emerging avian influenza viruses, allowing scientists worldwide to analyze the strains and begin development of vaccines against them.
Giovanni notes that NIAID is working with collaborators who have well-defined collections of human and avian influenza viruses. Their expertise will help us prioritize, select and obtain strains so we can offer a library of viral sequences that will be critically important to the scientific community. The NIAID Microbial Sequencing Centers initiative funds the production of genome sequences that researchers can use to learn how an organisms genetic instructions drive it to cause disease.