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SARS Genome Update: Animal Origins?
By Kate Dalke

As health officials from Toronto to Taiwan struggle to contain SARS through measures like quarantines and the prohibition of spitting in public places, scientists are piecing together clues about the virus, its genome, and its origins.

Several news organizations reported this week that a virus similar to the SARS virus was found in animals sold at a market in Guangdong Province, China, where the first cases of SARS emerged.

The evidence to date suggests that the SARS virus is not a mutant of known coronaviruses, nor does it appear to have been genetically engineered.

Rather, the SARS virus probably evolved independently from other coronaviruses, says a commentary in today’s issue of Science. It may have infected a bird, reptile, or mammal. for a very long time before jumping to humans and causing the SARS epidemic.

The authors are Kathryn V. Holmes of University of Colorado Health Sciences in Denver and Luis Enjuanes of the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Madrid.

The complete genome sequences of at least ten SARS strains are available to researchers in public databases. Now that the virus has been identified and sequenced, the direction of SARS research will shift to analyzing proteins in the virus for possible targets for drugs and vaccines.

To see related GNN articles go to
»SARS Research Report

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Holmes, Katheryn V. and Luis Enjuanes. The SARS Coronavirus: A Post-Genomic Era. Science 301, 1377-1378 (May 30, 2003).

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