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 Study tracks inner workings of the brain with new biosensor
16.08.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht Foods of the future
15.08.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

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: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum bugs, meet your new swatter

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

A novel synthetic antibody enables conditional “protein knockdown” in vertebrates

20.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Metamolds: Molding a mold

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>