Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

PhD student discovers key genetic SARS link

14.01.2004


Month-long project leads to four-month investigation and revolutionary discovery



A U of T student had no idea his class project would end up unravelling the history of SARS. But when he was assigned an open-ended study, John Stavrinides jumped at the chance to tackle public enemy number one.

“I chose the SARS genome because it was obviously very important from a medical perspective,” said Stavrinides, a PhD candidate in comparative genomics.


Under the supervision of Professor David Guttman of botany, Stavrinides turned a month-long project into four months. It would involve 10-hour days in front of the computer, using computational tools to trace the coronavirus’ checkered past.

The detective work paid off. As Stavrinides and Guttman unravelled the history of the genome, they discovered that SARS was formed by a combination of mammalian and avian viruses. This recombination event created an entirely new coronavirus, unrecognizable to human immune systems.

Similar genetic exchange events are believed responsible for some of the most devastating viral epidemics and pandemics such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 20 million people worldwide. Guttman said this type of genetic change can have far more dramatic consequences than simple genetic mutations, in
which only small features in genes are changed at any one time.

“These recombination events have the potential to create an entirely new structure essentially instantaneously,” he said. “Since our immune systems have never seen this new viral form, it is more difficult for them to respond to it in a timely and effective manner.”

Stavrinides and Guttman’s findings were published in the January issue of the Journal of Virology. Although an effective vaccine for SARS is years away, the study offers another piece to the puzzle.

“We hope that this work will contribute to the design of specific and effective vaccines,” Guttman said, “but perhaps it will be most useful in the development of tests for the diagnosis of new SARS outbreaks. We will be in a much better position to recognize new and potentially deadly viral outbreaks if we can identify the specific evolutionary changes that made SARS so deadly.”

The project garnered Stavrinides an A and received extensive international coverage in media outlets as far-reaching as Al-Jazeera and BBC News, but he’s not resting on his laurels. While his PhD work centres on bacteria instead of viruses, he said what he learned working with SARS was invaluable.

“In our field, you can apply all the tools and concepts to virtually any system,” said Stavrinides, who is studying plant pathogens. “That’s the power of evolutionary study.”


Karen Kelly is an assistant news services officer with the department of public affairs.
U of T Public Affairs, ph: (416) 978-0260; email: k.kelly@utoronto.ca

Karen Kelly | University of Toronto
Further information:
http://www.newsandevents.utoronto.ca/bin5/040112a.asp

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution
09.12.2016 | Veterans Affairs Research Communications

nachricht Oxygen can wake up dormant bacteria for antibiotic attacks
08.12.2016 | Penn State

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>