MRF Meningococcus Genome Library

An online library of the genetic blueprint of the meningococcal bacteria

Scientific version
  • Researchers:
    1 Professor Ray Borrow, 2 Professor Martin Maiden, 3 Professor Julian Parkhill, 4 Dr Jonathan Green, 5 Dr Edward Kaczmarski, 6 Professor Chris Tang, 7 Dorothea Hill, 8 Dr Jay Lucidarme, 9 Dr Keith Jolley
  • Start Date:
    01 October 2011
  • Category:
  • Location:
    Oxford University, Oxford, UK, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK, Public Health England, Manchester, UK
MRF Meningococcus Genome Library
What is this project about?

We commissioned this unique online Library to help scientists throughout the world develop and test vaccines for meningococcal infections, especially MenB – the leading cause of deaths from meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland.

It’s a world first – a truly ground-breaking resource - which will provide the complete genetic blueprint of every meningococcus that was isolated as a cause of meningitis or septicaemia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between July 2010 and June 2013. Meningococcal genomes from Scotland between 2009 and 2013 are also due to be added soon. 

Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted for meningitis, or for any other human disease. The Library is free of charge and open to all researchers, anywhere in the word and is invaluable for evaluating and implementing new vaccines - which will ultimately save millions of lives across the globe.

Why is this important?

In recent years, the genome sequence has been used as a starting block for developing novel vaccines. This includes the most advanced MenB vaccine candidate so far, which had a single bacterial genome as the starting point for its development.

However, since no single strain predominates in patients, who can be infected with many different strains, whenever a promising vaccine candidate is identified, it is essential to determine how widely it is present in all disease-causing bacteria. This is especially tricky with the meningococcus, which is a master of disguise and can change its surface structures to avoid our immune system and potential vaccines. This is known as ‘vaccine escape’ and requires extensive investigation. But our library will save thousands of research hours by helping scientists to plot the changes in bacteria since 2010/11 – which in turn makes it easier to find solutions.

The Library will also help identify the proportion of meningococcal strains a vaccine will cover and test the feasibility of using whole genome sequencing for routine typing, a subject of international importance.
How bacterial DNA collected from people with meningococcal disease becomes genomic data for the Library. Diagram courtesy of Dorothea Hill at Oxford University.
How bacterial DNA collected from people with meningococcal disease becomes genomic data for the Library. Diagram courtesy of Dorothea Hill at Oxford University.


The project will produce an online, open-access database that any researcher in the world can use and update. Data from the library will be used by researchers to investigate meningococcal genetics in greater detail.

This library will be an international hub for meningococcal genomic information and represents a world first in providing the genome sequences for a whole epidemiological year of meningococcal isolates.

Publications referencing the MRF library:

Merseyside supports the Library

We were delighted to receive a generous donation of £41,410 from the Meningitis Merseyside Support Group towards the MRF Meningococcus Genome Library.

Read the full story

Gina Weston talks to Meningitis Research Foundation about losing two children to meningitis and septicaemia

Working in the lab

The big numbers

  • 784 pages when you print off a copy of an entire meningococcal B genome.
  • <1mm the actual length of a meningococcal genome
  • 244 miles the distance travelled by each genome from isolate in Manchester to sequence in the Library in Oxford
  • 2,153,922 letters to be sequenced in each genome
  • £57 to extract and sequence each genome

Project timeline

September 2012 - We announce the new Library to the global scientific community at IPNC, the International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference. It was also launched to the scientific community and media. You can read the press release here.

November 2012  – Meningococci from 2011/12 are added to the Library

February 2014 -
Meningococci from 2012/13 added to the Library plus a new extension project is awarded by MRF to add meningococci from Scotland.

2010/11 Eng, Wales, Northern Ireland = 514 genome sequences
2011/12 Eng, Wales, Northern Ireland = 409 genome sequences
2012/13 Eng, Wales, Northern Ireland = 458 genome sequences

    Presentations of the Library

    Target amount


    Donated so far


    So far £98307.00 has been raised for this project including these recent donations...

    Donation by Brenda Metcalf on 18/09/2014


    + £7.50 Gift Aid

    Donation by Anonymous on 26/05/2014


    + £2.50 Gift Aid

    Donation by Anonymous on 13/06/2012


    + £2.50 Gift Aid

    Donation by Anonymous on 13/06/2012


    + £5.00 Gift Aid

    "A small donation given in memory of Darren Nathan. A beautiful little boy whose life potential was only 19 months. Love and miss you every day. x"

    Donation by Anonymous on 13/06/2012

    Back to top