Meningitis Bacterium Code Cracked
Neisseria meningitidis infects half a million people each year, and is associated with major epidemics of meningitis in developing countries. The research paves the way for new methods of detecting, preventing and treating infections.
"This is the result of two years' work by a team of 30. This research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, has already had - and will continue to have - a significant impact on our understanding of meningitis."
Dr Julian Parkhill, head of the team at the Sanger Centre, Cambridge UK
The complete DNA sequence of type A N. meningitidis is published today in the science journal Nature by an international team based at the Sanger Centre, UK, the Max-Planck Institut für molekular Genetik, Berlin, Germany and The Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease at the University of Oxford.
One of the most interesting findings is a possible mechanism to explain how the bacteria change their surface coat and thereby evade detection by the body's natural defences. Other features of the sequence may reveal how the bacteria transfer DNA between strains, thus changing disease-causing properties.
The sequence produced by the European team was released freely on the internet each week, and it has already been compared with the sequence of the related type B, which was sequenced by a team in the US. Comparison between the two sequences will help to identify why the bacteria differ, and which elements are responsible for infection and severity of the disease.