Embargoed until 2 p.m EDT
NSF PR 02-37 - May 9, 2002
Researchers Compare Anthrax Genomes
In a pioneering use of genomics as a tool for the forensic
analysis of microbes, scientists at The Institute
for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., and
at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff have found
new genetic markers that distinguish the Bacillus
anthracis isolate that was used in last fall's
bioterror attack in Boca Raton, Florida, from closely
related anthrax strains.
The findings, posted on Science Express on May
9 and scheduled for later publication in Science,
demonstrate for the first time that the analysis of
the genomes of microbial pathogens can be an effective
method of finding new "genetic fingerprints" that
can help trace the differences among nearly identical
strains of microbes such as anthrax. Previous genetic
marker analysis had focused on a limited number of
DNA segments, rather than the entire genomic sequence,
of those microbes. The sequencing of the Florida
isolate was funded by a grant from the National Science
"These findings clearly demonstrate the value of microbial
genome sequencing as a tool in defending against bioterrorism
and in understanding the variations and relatedness
of microbes in nature," said Rita Colwell, NSF director.
"We at NSF are very pleased that our ability to expedite
the review and funding of proposals submitted in response
to national needs has brought these timely results."
Scientists can now expand on this information by generating
genomic sequences for many different anthrax strains.
In the recent TIGR study, the scientists compared
information gained from a previous investigation into
the Ames anthrax strain with the whole genome sequence
of the Florida anthrax strain. Led by Timothy Read
and Claire Fraser, the researchers determined areas
of genetic variability between the two strains.
The investigators confirmed previous reports that
the Florida isolate was derived from the Ames strain,
and narrowed its origins to a defined Ames lineage.
The Florida strain, the scientists discovered, comes
from a 1981 isolate found in a Texas cow. This isolate
was subsequently sent to Fort Detrick, Md. where it
was used in research at the U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute for Infectious Diseases.
The Office of Naval Research and the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the
National Institutes of Health also funded the research.