Genomic Recipe

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Science  03 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5642, pp. 19-21
DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5642.19e

It is a lot harder to characterize an organism if you can't get it to grow in culture. The microorganism Tropheryma whipplei, which causes gastrointestinal Whipple's disease, has not been able to be grown outside of fibroblast cells. However, with the availability of the complete genome sequence of two strains of T. whipplei, Renesto et al. discovered how to please this fastidious bacterium.

The <1-megabase genome contains a great deal of functional information, but computer modeling studies revealed that it lacks the machinery to make several amino acids. With this knowledge, the investigators were able to design a cell-free culture medium that supported the growth of three different strains of T. whipplei as well as a new strain isolated from a heart valve. This type of approach should lead to other successes in growing previously unculturable intracellular pathogens. — BJ

Lancet 362, 447 (2003).

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