Scientists have developed a computational technique which designs molecular “baits” for any strains of virus which are known to infect humans.
This comprises viruses like Zika, which are tough to detect due to their low abundance in clinical samples. This method was developed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
The danger of emerging viruses has been increased by globalization and other realities of modernization, like rapid human movement. But, at the same time, scientific developments have greatly strengthened our ability to defend against these pathogens.
The new method could be helpful for genomic sequencing centers across the world to monitor disease more efficiently and inexpensively. This is critical for controlling and managing outbreaks.
During the Zika outbreak from 2015-to-2016, public health authorities tried to contain the epidemic, while scientists worldwide tried to comprehend the genetics of the virus.
Zika virus disease is generally caused by a virus transmitted largely by Aedes mosquitoes, which bite during the day. Symptoms are usually mild and include rash, fever, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache. Symptoms naturally last for 2–7 days. Most people with this viral infection do not develop signs.
During the outbreak, scientists found that there was a low abundance of Zika particles in the blood samples of affected individuals. This made it very difficult for scientists to capture the viral genetic material. These findings were reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Computational tools for genomic sequencing
Researchers have now developed a computational technique named as CATCH, which is “Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization.”
This technology aids scientists for the designing of probes. These probes will capture the genetic material of any microbe, counting any viral strain known to infect human beings.
CATCH will govern the optimal set of probes for recovering the genetic material after inputting the genomes of any human virus which has been uploaded to the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s GenBank sequence database.
Those sequences can then be referred to the companies which are involved in the synthesis of the research probes. Those probes can then be used for the isolation of the desired microbial DNA. Therefore, it can be sequenced, thus enriching clinical samples for the microbe of interest.
Using this method, the research team developed probes. These probes helped them determine that Zika had spread to various geographic regions months before scientists detect it. The potential of the technology for the improvement of genomic observation could inform efforts to control epidemics in the future.
Benefits of technique
According to the researchers of the study, genomic sequencing becomes an important part of disease surveillance. And tools like CATCH will help to detect outbreaks earlier and generate data on pathogens which can be shared with the wider research communities.
The technique could also be an influential tool for considering undiagnosed fevers which scientists suspect to be caused by a virus.
Scientists are also excited about the potential to use metagenomic sequencing to shed light on those cases and the possibility of doing so locally in affected countries.