News FocusInfectious Disease

Molecular Methods Fire Up the Hunt for Emerging Pathogens

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Science  09 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5387, pp. 219-221
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5387.219

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Identifying microbes that have recently begun to attack human hosts, or so-called emerging pathogens, has been hampered by the fact that many organisms can't be found by the traditional means of identifying a microorganism--culturing it in petri dishes and test tubes. The Unexplained Illness Working Group, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1994, has been leading the campaign to apply genetic techniques to the hunt for these microbes, serving both as an early warning system for dangerous microbes and as a focal point for research on new tests. And this effort comes not a moment too soon: According to surveys carried out over the past few years by the working group and other collaborators, in up to 14% of deaths caused by infection in people between the ages of 1 and 49, no known microbe could be identified as the culprit.