26th April 2000

Beowulf announces £3 million of new funding for pathogen sequencing

The Wellcome Trust, via its Beowulf Genomics initiative, has committed more than £3 million to help scientists learn more about some of the causes of sleeping sickness, gastrointestinal infection and toxoplasmosis.

Researchers at the Sanger Centre, near Cambridge, will carry out sequencing work on the genomes of Trypanosoma brucei, Bacteroides fragilis, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Toxoplasma gondii.

£1,970,000 of the funding will build on work already underway on Trypanosoma brucei, the parasite that causes sleeping sickness in humans and nagana disease in cattle. In collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the T. brucei genome network, scientists will determine the sequence of chromosomes IX, X and XI and contribute to the continuing process of gene discovery.

Bacteroides fragilis is a bacterium normally found in the gut. Highly opportunistic, it is a major cause of infection often limiting the success of gastrointestinal surgery. It is becomingly increasingly resistant to antibiotics. The new research to be carried out with Queen's University, Belfast will sequence the complete genome of strain NCTC 9343 and produce partial sequence of the strain 638R for comparative purposes. Laboratories worldwide are already engaged in research on this organism and the availability of genome sequence data will facilitate and accelerate these investigations.

Yersinia enterocolitica, a major cause of food poisoning is commonly associated with the consumption of pork. The bacterium is a model organism in the study of intestinal disease and has an ability to thrive at refrigerator temperatures, hence its interest to the food industry.

The Sanger Centre will work with St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine & Dentistry to sequence serotype 0:8 biotype IB and compare this with the genomes of the very closely related organisms Y. pestis (the cause of plague, the genome sequence of which is nearing completion at the Sanger Centre) and Y. pseudotuberculosis (another cause of gastroenteritis, which is being sequenced at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory in the USA) to find out why these pathogens cause such a diverse range of disease.

A pilot programme will be funded to sequence chromosome Ib of the ME49 (B7) strain of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that affects both animals and humans, causes toxoplasmosis and can lead to serious birth defects if infection occurs during pregnancy. It is also implicated in a significant proportion of Aids-related disease. The research, in conjunction with Cambridge University, will be provide new and detailed information about chromosome and genetic organisation paving the way for a full international sequencing effort.

Commenting on the funding of these projects, Dr. Bart Barrell, head of the Sanger Centre's Pathogen Sequencing Unit said: "All of the sequence data from these projects will be released onto the Internet as soon as it is available. This approach, taken with all our sequencing work, is already paying dividends and has already enabled scientists working on Trypanosoma brucei, for example, to accelerate their understanding of this pathogen."

For further information contact:

Roberta Pearce/Noorece Ahmed
Wellcome Trust Press Office     
Tel:    020 7611 7328/8540
Fax:    020 7611 8416
E-mail: r.pearce@wellcome.ac.uk

Don Powell
Press Office, The Sanger Centre
Tel:    01223 494 956
Fax:    01223 494 714
E-mail: don@sanger.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

  1. Trypsonoma brucei - Dr. Bart Barrell, Sanger Centre in association with Dr. Sara Melville, University of Cambridge and the T. brucei genome network.
  2. Bacteroides fragilis - Dr.Bart Barrell, Sanger Centre in association with Dr. Sheila Patrick, Queen's University, Belfast; Professor Brian Duerden, University of Wales College of Medicine; Professor Ian Poxton, University of Edinburgh Medicine School.
  3. Yersinia enterocolitica - Dr. Bart Barrell, Sanger Centre in association with Dr. Mike Prentice, St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine & Dentistry.
  4. Toxoplasma gondii - Dr. Bart Barrell, Sanger Centre in association with Dr. James Ajioka, University of Cambridge and researchers at ; Montana State University; Stanford University School of Medicine; University of Pennsylvania; Washington University School of Medicine.
  5. Beowulf Genomics is a non-profit collaborative initiative set up by the Wellcome Trust to sequence the genomes of bacteria which cause some of the world's most significant infectious diseases. Web site: www.beowulf.org.uk.
  6. The Wellcome Trust is the world's largest medical research charity with an annual spend of some £600 million in the current financial year 1999/2000. The Wellcome Trust supports more than 3,000 researchers at 300 locations, in 30 different countries - laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the 21st century and helping to maintain the UK's reputation as one of the world's leading scientific nations. As well as funding major initiatives in the public understanding of science, the Wellcome Trust is the country's leading supporter of research into the history of medicine.
  7. The Sanger Centre is one of the world's leading genome sequencing centres. In collaboration with the Genome Sequencing Centre, St. Louis, USA, it completed the sequence of the worm C. elegans. The Sanger Centre is also involved in the Human Genome Project, an international effort to sequence the entire human genome. Both the Sanger Centre and the Wellcome Trust have been at the forefront of efforts to keep sequence data in the public domain. Web site:www.sanger.ac.uk
* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/ykrqnq28