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Researchers 'Barcode' Tuberculosis

Sep 05, 2014 05:56 PM EDT
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Not all tuberculosis-causing bacterium were created equal. Researchers have recently developed a new genetic "bar-coding" system to help professionals identify different strains of tuberculosis that affect patients in different ways.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacterium usually attacks the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain as well, making an infection unpredictable and often difficult to treat.

However, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, investigators have determined that there are just 62 mutations involved in all various strains of the dangerous bacterium.

Knowing this and being able to identify these mutations in patients can help professionals identify what strain they are dealing with. By examining and organizing these strains by their "genetic barcode" in advance, Ruth McNerney, who was part of the study, hopes to accelerate research efforts.

"New technology is making it easier to track mutations but genomes are very complicated," she said in a recent statement. "We hope this simple bar code will help people with their research."

The team studied well over 90,000 genetic mutations in TB strains to identify the key 62 that tell experts which is which.

"We are making this information available to the doctors and scientists working with tuberculosis," added Taane Clark, who led the research. "This new barcode can be easily implemented and used to determine the strain-type that is a surrogate for virulence."

The World Health Organization estimates there are 12 million TB patients in the world, and recently announced a collaborative effort with the European Respiratory Society (ERS) to eliminate TB in countries that do not yet experience the disease at epidemic levels.

This new identification process may help simplify this initiative, enabling experts to map how TB moves around the world.

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