April 18, 2003
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
||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,
Genome Delivery Date: April 14
Beat to the punch by Canada—although all groups say they were
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
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
||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
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
hours it took to detect virus: 24
Cost of materials for
|Who’s developing a SARS test?
Among others, CDC, Roche Diagnostics, Artus GmbH, Genome Institute