MRF Meningococcus Genome Library

A world first – a truly ground-breaking resource - which will provide the complete genetic blueprint of bacteria isolated as a cause of meningococcal disease in the UK.

The Genome Library is already responsible for uncovering the rise in meningococcal W meningitis and septicaemia in the UK.

Professor Ray Borrow, Professor Martin Maiden, Professor Julian Parkhill, Dr Jonathan Green, Dr Edward Kaczmarski, Professor Chris Tang, Dorothea Hill, Dr Jay Lucidarme, Dr Keith Jolley
Start Date
01 Oct 2011
Diagnosis and treatment
University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK, Public Health England, Manchester, UK

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 have since been added.

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 project important?

In recent years, the genome sequence has been used as a starting block for developing novel vaccines, including Bexsero®, which had a single bacterial genome as the starting point for its development. 

However, whenever a promising vaccine component 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 – which in turn makes it easier to find solutions.

The Library will also help identify the proportion of meningococcal strains a vaccine could cover and test the feasibility of using whole genome sequencing for routine typing and surveillance, a subject of international importance.

November 2014 - MenW cases rising in the UK

The Library has been instrumental in establishing that a recent rise in MenW cases since 2009 belong to ST-11 (cc-11), a particularly virulent sequence type with a high case fatality rate.


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.

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).
We take action that benefits people directly, including training health professionals and providing support and information services.
We call for positive change as a united voice against meningitis and septicaemia, and a dedicated champion for those it affects.
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Liz Rodgers

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

If you’d like to know more about this project or MRF's research programme, do get in touch.

Tel: 0333 405 6258

Ways you can help

Please do what you can today and help save and change the lives of thousands