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Anthrax Genome Compared to Related Bacteria
By Adam Marcus

Scientists have compared the completely sequenced genome of the anthrax bacterium with the genomes of two close relatives and found that all three organisms differ by about 150 genes, only some of which may account for the deadly nature of Bacillus anthracis.

The researchers compared the “Ames” strain of B. anthracis to Bacillus cereus, which causes food poisoning, and Bacillus thuringiensis, which is used globally as an insecticide.

The Ames strain was sequenced at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland, and initial findings were reported in May 2002. The researchers discovered remarkably few genetic differences among several anthrax strains but identified some “landmarks” in the genome that could be used in future DNA fingerprinting studies.

In the new study, Timothy D. Read of TIGR and his colleagues scrutinized the Bacillus anthracis genome for useful information such as potential vaccine and drug targets. The researchers aim to identify genes or proteins that are present among a large number of isolates of the bacterium.

The researchers used “gene chip” technology to compare the three bacteria. All three organisms have roughly identical genes for toxins on their chromosomes. However, the researchers found genetic differences on small structures called plasmids, which often carry virulence genes.

In a separate study, researchers compared an incomplete Ames strain genome to a fully sequenced strain of B. cereus. Both papers appear in the journal Nature.

See related GNN article
»Florida Anthrax Bacterium Sequenced

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Read, T.D. et al. The genome sequence of Bacillus anthracis Ames and comparison to closely related bacteria. Nature 423, 81-86 (May 1, 2003).
Ivanova, N. et al. Genome sequence of Bacillus cereus and comparative analysis with Bacillus anthracis. Nature 423, 87-91 (May 1, 2003).

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