Investigating the genetic blueprint of meningitis bacteria carried and spread in the meningitis belt

Using cutting edge technology to find out what strains of bacteria are carried and spread by healthy people living in African communities at risk of meningitis epidemics.

Dr Caroline Trotter, Prof Sir Brian Greenwood, Prof James Stuart, Prof Ray Borrow, Prof Martin Maiden, Ms Kanny Diallo, Prof Stephen Bentley, Prof Julian Parkhill.
Start Date
01 Aug 2017
Prevention and treatment
Unversity of Cambridge, UK, LSHTM, UK, University of Oxford, PHE, UK, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK


The meningitis belt countries of sub-Saharan Africa have been repeatedly devastated by overwhelming meningitis epidemics since the early 1900’s.

Fortunately, since the development of an affordable MenA vaccine in 2010, over 265 million people living in the meningitis belt have been protected against meningococcal A meningitis (MenA) – formerly the main cause of outbreaks.

But the threat of meningitis epidemics from other strains of bacteria persists. To stop them happening once and for all, we need to understand what strains of bacteria are being carried and spread within African communities.

This project uses samples collected from healthy people living in the African meningitis belt who carry the bacteria in their throats but do not have the disease. This research, alongside another new MRF project using samples collected from meningitis patients, will provide a comprehensive picture of the genetic differences among bacteria that are carried, spread, and infect people in the African meningitis belt.

About the project

In this study, the world leading research team will use cutting edge technology, called whole genome sequencing, to study the genetic blue-print of the bacteria collected by the African Meningococcal Carriage Consortium (funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

This will provide important information on:

  • How much variation there is in the genetic make-up of the bacteria circulating across the countries of the meningitis belt
  • Differences in the genetic make-up of bacteria harmlessly carried compared to bacteria that cause disease
  • How the bacteria are spread within African communities and within households
  • Differences between bacteria in the African meningitis belt compared to in the UK

What will this achieve?

The MRF-Meningococcal Genome Library (MRF-MGL) is an invaluable resource for the scientific and public health community, providing access to whole genome sequences for an entire epidemiologic year. Currently containing more than 3000 genomes, the MRF-MGL is an open access, online resource established to make a lasting contribution to the advancement of meningitis research.

This study will add 2500 genomes to MRF-MGL Africa, making them available to the world-wide scientific community. This will enable valuable comparisons between meningococcal bacteria collected from UK and Africa, and potentially other countries that choose to contribute to the library, explaining why the picture of disease is so different in these locations.

Since the charity was founded in 1989, we have awarded 161 research grants. The total value of our investment in vital scientific research is over £19.1 million (€24.7 million).
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£160/€190/$214 decodes the genetic information in a sample of meningococcal bacteria. This information helps us to track new forms of meningitis and campaign to introduce new vaccines.
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Liz Rodgers
Research Officer

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m MRF's Research Officer.

If you’d like to know more about this area of MRF's work, do get in touch.

Tel: 0333 405 6258