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The first peer-reviewed studies of the genomic sequences of two SARS virus strains are being released today by the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The studies confirm that the virus is a new variety of coronavirus, and provide a first look at the molecular components of the virus. The information should help speed efforts to diagnose, treat, and prevent the global epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
"Both research teams produced these genomic sequences quickly and efficiently, in a model of cooperation among various groups. Because this information is crucial to the public health, Science is making it immediately available following an important and promptly conducted peer review," said Don Kennedy, Science's Editor-in-Chief.
"The genomic sequence of the virus can lead researchers to the tools they need for fighting this new disease. From here, researchers should be able to target these proteins in diagnostic tests, therapies, or possibly a vaccine for SARS," said Katrina Kelner, Deputy Editor, Life Sciences, at Science.
A Canadian team was the first to sequence the genome of a SARS viral strain, taken from a patient in Toronto. Shortly thereafter, a U.S.-based team sequenced the so-called Urbani strain, which Dutch researchers had linked directly to lung disease. Both teams have posted their sequences on the Internet. The sequences are quite similar, with a small difference in length.
Both the teams have identified the pieces of the genome that should contain instructions for producing proteins. This includes putative genes for four essential proteins that enable this type of virus, called a coronavirus, to enter host cells and replicate. The researchers also identified five regions coding for "non-essential" proteins, which may nonetheless help shed light on the virus' origins.
Known coronaviruses cause mild upper-respiratory illness in humans, in some cases, and a variety of diseases in other animals.
While the SARS genome has the same overall structure as those of the three known classes of coronavirus, the researchers found key differences when they looked at the predicted amino acid structures of the individual proteins. By statistically analyzing the differences among the proteins, both teams concluded that the SARS virus is a novel class of coronavirus, rather than a recent mutant of a known variety.
These findings set the stage for further investigations into the viral proteins' functions, possibly uncovering new targets for therapies or vaccines.
Research teams in Singapore and Beijing have also sequenced strains of the virus. An assortment of sequences from around the globe should help researchers to trace the spread and evolution of the virus.
More information about SARS can be found at:
The authors of the Canadian genome sequence paper are Marco A. Marra, Steven J.M. Jones, Caroline Astell, Robert Holt, Angela Brooks-Wilson, Yaron Butterfield, Jennifer Asano, Sarah Barber, Susanna Chan, Alison Cloutier, Shaun Coughlin, Doug Freeman, Noreen Girn, Obi Griffith, Jaswinder Khattra, Stephen Leach, Michael Mayo, Helen McDonald, Stephen Montgomery, Pawan Pandoh, Anca Petrescu, Gordon Robertson, Jacqueline Schein, Duane Smailus, Jeffrey Stott, and George Yang at The British Columbia Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Center in Vancouver, Canada; Francis Plummer, Anton Andonov, Harvey Artsob, Nathalie, Bastien, Kathy Bernard, Tim Booth, Donald Bowness, Michael Drebot, Lisa Fernando, Ramon Flick, Michael Garbutt, Michael Gray, Allen Grolla, Steven Jones, Heinz Feldmann, Adrienne Meyers, Amin Kabani, Yan Li, Susan Normand, Ute Stroher, Graham A. Tipples, Shaun Tyler, Robert Vogrig, Diane Ward, and Brynn Watson at The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada; Robert C. Brunham Mel Krajden, Martin Petric, and Danuta M. Skowronski at The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, Canada; Chris Upton and Rachel L. Roper at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, Canada.
The authors of the U.S.-based genome sequence paper are Paul A. Rota, M. Steven Oberste, Stephan S. Monroe, W. Allan Nix, Ray Campagnoli, Joseph P. Icenogle, Silvia Peñaranda, Bettina Bankamp, Kaija Maher, Min-hsin Chen, Sixiong Tong, Azaibi Tamin, Luis Lowe, Michael Frace, Qui Chen, Dean D. Erdman, Teresa C. T. Peret, Cara Burns, Thomas G. Ksaizek, Pierre E. Rollin, Anthony Sanchez, Stephanie Liffick, Brian Holloway, Josef Limor, Karen McCaustland, Melissa Olson-Rassmussen, Mark A. Pallansch, Larry J. Anderson, and William Bellini, of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA; Joseph L. DeRisi, and David Wang at the University of California-San Francisco, in San Francisco, CA; Ron Fouchier and Albert D. M. E. Osterhaus at Erasmus University, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Stephan Günther and Christian Drosten at Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, in Hamburg, Germany.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.