Genetic decoders

A strike against bioterrorism

Scientists at the School of Veterinary Medicine have helped decode the genome sequence of Cryptosporidium hominis, a highly infectious parasite that causes common and fatal waterborne diseases in people throughout the world.

With no preventive or therapeutic treatments available, C. hominis is considered such a risk to public health that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified the parasite as a potential bioterrorist agent. The researchers’ findings, reported in the journal Nature, are vital for the development of effective vaccine and drug therapies.

Saul Tzipori, Giovanni Widmer and Donna Ayioski of the veterinary school’s Department of Infectious Diseases worked on the project, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The research was part of a multi-institutional genome decoding project that also included investigators at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Minnesota.

“What is unique about this project is that the genomes of two related human and veterinary pathogens were sequenced in parallel,” said Widmer, associate professor of biomedical sciences and a lead author on the study. “This now puts us in a position to not only identify potential drug and vaccine targets, but also to unravel key biological characteristics that might help explain the difference between the pathogen that infects humans only and C. parvum, which is transmitted between humans and animals.”