The Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced that it has achieved a major milestone.
The entire genetic blueprints of more than 2,000 human and avian influenza viruses taken from samples around the world have been completed and the sequence data made available in a public database.
"This information will help scientists understand how influenza viruses evolve and spread," says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., "and it will aid in the development of new flu vaccines, therapies and diagnostics."
"Scientists around the world can use the sequence data to compare different strains of the virus, identify the genetic factors that determine their virulence, and look for new therapeutic, vaccine and diagnostic targets," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
The Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, initiated in 2004, has been carried out at the NIAID-funded Microbial Sequencing Center managed by The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) of Rockville, Maryland.
The project is currently directed by David Spiro, Ph.D., and Claire Fraser, Ph.D., at TIGR and Elodie Ghedin, Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Recently, growing sequencing capacity has enabled the production rate to increase to more than 200 viral genomes per month.
Seasonal influenza is a major public health concern in the United States, accounting for approximately 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year. Globally, influenza results in an estimated 250,000 to half a million deaths annually.
"A few years ago, only limited genetic information on influenza viruses existed in the public domain, and much of the sequence data was incomplete," says Maria Y. Giovanni, Ph.D., who oversees the NIAID Microbial Sequencing Centers.
"The Influenza Genome Sequencing Project has filled that gap by vastly increasing the amount of influenza sequence data and rapidly making it available to the entire scientific community. Subsequently, there has been a marked increase in the number of scientists worldwide depositing influenza genome sequence data into the public domain including scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Giovanni said.