News FocusEpidemiology

Outbreak Detectives Embrace the Genome Era

Science  30 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6051, pp. 1818-1819
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6051.1818

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Summary

Sequencing machines are becoming ever faster, smaller, and cheaper—spreading beyond big centers into clinics and small labs. Now, genomic epidemiologists say, it's time to use the technique to track microbial movements on a global scale. By routinely sequencing bacterial samples—perhaps up to a billion a year—scientists could pinpoint the sources of new outbreaks faster, determine whether a bug is resistant to antibiotics, and investigate how public policies or the use of certain drugs change the course of microbial evolution. Four weeks ago, 25 scientists gathered in Brussels for 2 days to discuss how to mobilize such a massive effort and dream about the benefits it would offer. Participants concluded that the world needs a global system to share and mine genomic data for microorganisms. It could be operational in 5 to 10 years, they say—but there are some formidable obstacles.

  • * Kai Kupferschmidt is a writer in Berlin.