The National Microbiological Laboratory (NML) in Winnepeg, Canada has looked for more than 250 known causes of lung infection in samples from Canadian patients with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) — the mystery, deadly lung infection spreading from South East Asia — and has so far been unable to identify a likely causative agent. Influenza virus, including that involved in the recent "bird flu" outbreak, has been ruled out by labs in Hong Kong.

"Whatever this is, it smacks of something brand new — a new cause of pneumonia," Donald Lowe, head of the Department of Microbiology at Mt Sinai Hospital, Toronto, told The Scientist. Lowe has been treating the nine Canadian SARS patients.

But it took six months to identify the Legionella pneumophila bacterium as the cause of Legionnaire's disease, the pneumonia that attacked an old soldiers' convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Could it take just...

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