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SARS Genome Roundup
By Kate Dalke

In the past three weeks, scientists from across the globe have scrambled to sequence the genome of the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The pace and frequency at which the genome was sequenced is unprecedented, in part due to new technologies and international cooperation among 13 laboratories under the direction of the World Health Organization.

The project’s goal is to understand the virus itself and develop better diagnostic tests by sharing information about the virus—sequences, images, information about samples from patients—in real time via email and the Web. Four centers have sequenced the genome and all the sequences are similar, with only small, expected differences.

Here’s a brief roundup of what’s happened with the genome so far.


Player: British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, Canada
Genome Delivery Date: April 12--Sequenced in just six days
Sample: Toronto patient
Number of Sleepless Scientists Who Worked on the Project: 30
Gossip: Team members slept on chairs outside the lab and lived on soda, pizza and doughnuts.
Player: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
Genome Delivery Date: April 14
Buzz: Beat to the punch by Canada—although all groups say they were collaborating
Test: CDC already has two “rudimentary” tests for SARS, but working on better ones. Genome sequence could help identify unique proteins as markers for diagnostic tests.
Vaccine: Vaccine is also in the works, but it could take a year or more.
Player: Genome Institute of Singapore, Singapore
Genome Delivery Date: April 17
Sample: The sample was isolated from a person who contracted the virus from one of the first people diagnosed with SARS in Singapore.
What’s up now: Institute says it is also developing three-hour diagnostic test.
Player: Hong Kong University
Genome Delivery Date: Earlier this week
Sample: Local patient


• The Chinese University of Hong Kong sequenced a strain from a Hong Kong patient with SARS.

• The Beijing Genomics Institute has sequenced the genomes of four SARS isolates from patients in Beijing and Guangdong Province. The institute collaborated with the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, also in Beijing.


Developed in 2002, the “virochip” is a research tool that contains viral DNA and was used to classify SARS as a member of the coronavirus family.
The Dish: “As soon as SARS hit the newswire, we contacted the CDC, they sent the sample and we nailed it,” says Joseph DeRisi, who developed the chip with his team at the University of California, San Francisco.
Number of viral sequences on chip: 12,000
Number of hours it took to detect virus: 24
Cost of materials for chip: $1


Who’s developing a SARS test?
Among others, CDC, Roche Diagnostics, Artus GmbH, Genome Institute of Singapore

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