South African Scientists Sequence Deadly TB Genome
October 16, 2007
On Thursday, South African scientists announced that they had sequenced the genome of a deadly strain of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB). Using technology purchased from the United States for 5 million rand (US $750,000), scientists working for a government-sponsored research center decoded and sequenced the strain.
"We have taken a sample of [XDR TB] from a KwaZulu-Natal patient and sequenced the entire genome of the strain of TB," said Carl Montague, the health portfolio manager of Lifelab, which funds the National Genomics Platform (NGP). "[It] took us just over a week; using other technology it would have taken up to a year," Montague said.
Researchers hope the breakthrough will lead to improved diagnostic tools for the strain and an understanding of how XDR TB is resistant to drugs. XDR TB was reported last year in KwaZulu-Natal, an area hard-hit by HIV/AIDS. Three hundred people are known to have developed XDR TB, and 188 of them died, according to Lifelab CEO Blessed Okole.
James Sakwa, Manager of NGP, said that scientists are far from finding a treatment, but sequencing the genome is "the very first step toward a better drug." Scientists are analyzing the sequence and hope to use it to develop a rapid test to diagnose the disease. Finding an effective drug could take up to ten years.
Okole said the technology could prove useful in probing drug resistance in other diseases such as HIV. "We are going to use it for HIV drug resistance, and we already have a project in line with that," Okole said.
Agence France Presse
10.11.2007; Fran Blandy