MRF Meningococcal Genome Library
10 September 2012
Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) today announced a world-first with the launch of its Meningococcus Genome Library - a major step forward for vaccine development - which has been funded by the charity.
Releasing the news at the International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference in Germany, Linda Glennie, MRF’s Head of Research and Medical Information said: “Nothing on this scale has been attempted in the field of meningitis or for any other human disease. It will help advance meningococcal B vaccine research and deliver a lasting legacy which is something our members, who work so tirelessly on our behalf, can be proud of.”
The online library will contain whole genome sequence data, or the complete genetic blueprint, for every meningococcal bacterium that caused disease between summer 2010 and summer 2011. The meningococcus is one of the major causes of meningitis and septicaemia world-wide and the library will give researchers unique access to information that will help them develop vaccines to coves all strains of this dangerous microbe. It will also enable investigation into vaccine escape - when the meningococcus changes its surface structure to trick our immune systems.
Professor Ray Borrow from the Health Protection Agency’s Vaccine Evaluation Unit in Manchester and principal investigator for the Meningococcus Genome Library said: “This project will combine advances in sequence determination and analysis approaches to determine and make publicly available the complete genome sequences for the meningococcal isolates from England, Wales and Northern Ireland for a complete epidemiological year, 2010/11. This will provide a unique resource not only for the discovery of vaccines, but their evaluation. It will also provide a snapshot of how the bacterium is changing over time.”
Professor Martin Maiden from the Department of Zoology, Oxford University and co-investigator adds: “In recent years, the genome sequence has been used as a starting block for developing novel vaccines, including the most advanced MenB vaccine candidate so far. However, a single bacterial genome was the starting point for developing this vaccine. Since no single strain predominates in patients, who are infected with any of a multiplicity of strains, whenever a promising vaccine candidate is identified, it is essential to determine how widely it covers all disease-causing bacteria. The online library will help achieve that aim. These results will represent a landmark in terms of the application of sequencing technology on a national scale to an important human pathogen. There is certainly nothing remotely on this scale in the field of meningococcal or for other bacterial pathogens currently available.”
Bacterial DNA will be prepared at the Meningococcal Reference Unit in Manchester and shipped to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, where sequencing will be performed. The short strips of sequence data will then be assembled into complete genome lengths at the University of Oxford and deposited into a MRF Meningococcus Library specific section of the PubMLST database, a central source of bacterial genetic information for researchers.
The genome sequences will be immediately available to the scientific community. Within the database, researchers will not only be able to download genetic data but also to contribute to the ongoing annotation process, where sequences can be assigned strain types and clonal complexes. Potential vaccine antigens will also be identified as a priority and information about meningococcal genes will grow as scientists across the globe access the library and help to explain the significance of these genes from their own research.
To visit the MRF Meningococcus Genome Library please go to: www.meningitis.org/research/genome