Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


High-speed Genetic Analysis Looks Deep Inside Primate Immune System

Viruses such as HIV and influenza take safe harbor in cells, where they cannot be recognized directly by the immune system. The immune response relies on infected cells announcing the presence of the virus by studding their exterior with fragments of the virus lurking within.

This system, called the “major histocompatibility complex” or MHC, is found in all mammalian immune systems. Although MHC genes are complicated, variable and difficult to read, a good “map” of the genes would help biologists understand why individuals have different responses to viruses.

Variations in the MHC genes could be key to some of medicine’s best-kept secrets: why some rare “non-progressors” do not get AIDS despite long-term infection with HIV, why some people respond poorly to vaccines, and how best to harness the immune response to defeat viruses.

Now, in a study published today (Oct. 11, 2009) in Nature Medicine, a team of researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown a high-speed method for analyzing the stubbornly complex MHC genes in three species of monkeys. “We have an abiding interest in the genes that are involved in immunity to pathogens,” says David O’Connor, the study's senior author and deputy director of the primate center. “People around the world, like other mammals, have encountered pathogens that have shaped the genes that control their immune systems. These genes are highly variable, and have been very difficult to study with conventional methods.”

The new study used “454 parallel sequencing,” which is typically used to create a highly detailed, “deep” genome sequence of individual organisms. The Wisconsin team tweaked this technology. Instead of attaining the greatest detail on a small number of individuals, they sacrificed a bit of accuracy to look at hundreds of samples from macaque monkeys, animals that are widely used in immunology research. They found that each monkey expresses more than two dozen MHC genes, at least four times the number in humans. The genes varied greatly, reflecting each individual’s geographic origin and the history of infection among its ancestors.

The sequencing was performed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the instrument maker, 454 Life Sciences, a division of Roche. “This study shows the tremendous potential of 454 sequencing to fundamentally change the way we study MHC genetics in human disease research,” says Michael Egholm, chief technology officer and vice president of research and development at 454 Life Sciences.

Because variations in MHC plays such a key role in immunity, the new ability to “read” the structure of MHC genes should improve the efficiency of animal research, says Roger Wiseman, a geneticist and the study’s lead author. “This will allow us to select better groups of animals for vaccine trials, perhaps allowing for fewer animals to be used in each study.”

The high-speed sequencing technology “can be used to look at any highly variable gene in large numbers of samples simultaneously,” adds O’Connor, whose laboratory has started using the technology to study immune responses and drug resistance in HIV/AIDS patients, correlating genetics with different responses to the virus. “We think this will help us understand why some people do much better than others. The global diversity of HIV and the MHC genes of infected people are complex and expensive to study.”

“This idea of looking for drug-resistant mutations has already been applied to single patients,” adds Wiseman, who is also in UW-Madison’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “We can now do this more economically on much larger groups of patients, which would be particularly useful in developing countries, where drug-resistance tests are seldom affordable.” The United Nations just reported that about 4 million people in the developing world are taking anti-retroviral medicines for HIV.

Another application for rapid sequencing could be to screen potential donors for bone-marrow transplants, says Wiseman. “It’s a bit down the road, but this could be used to tissue-type hundreds or thousands of individuals, maybe even an entire donor registry, in one fell swoop, and it could be faster, more thorough and less expensive than conventional techniques. This could produce better treatment outcomes by ensuring better tissue matches.”

Dave Tenenbaum | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How the African clawed frog got an extra pair of genes: Whole genome sequence reveals evolutionary history of Xenopus laevis
27.10.2016 | Hokkaido University

nachricht Mitochondria control stem cell fate
27.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

The gene of autumn colours

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Polymer scaffolds build a better pill to swallow

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>