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Computer turns detective in the hunt for novel pathogens

A computational technique that finds foreign gene sequences in human tissues could identify pathogens that cause chronic diseases.

Vicki Glaser(vpglaser@aol.com)

ALLENTOWN, PA — The potential for rapid discovery of new, disease-causing microbes, is on the horizon with successful results from a study with a new computerized technique — computational subtraction — that uses DNA matching to isolate and identify microbial gene sequences.

Computational subtraction is an in silico approach that takes advantage of the nearly completed DNA sequence of the human genome, made available through the Human Genome Project. By subtracting out the full complement of human DNA sequences from DNA libraries derived from human tissues, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found they were left with a small number of DNA sequences, presumably of nonhuman origin. They could then search these sequences for evidence of microbial genes, and establish possible links between previously unknown organisms and human disease.

Senior author Matthew Meyerson and colleagues described the computational subtraction method — and how they used...

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