News Focus

Understanding the Enemy

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Science  15 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6125, pp. 1269-1273
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6125.1269

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What made SARS such a threat to human health turned out to be surprisingly simple. Thirty months after the causative agent was found to be a novel coronavirus and 2 years after the disease had been stamped out, scientists determined that what gave the agent the ability to sicken humans came down to two key amino acid changes. The findings are part of a legacy of an unprecedented scientific effort. The SARS outbreak came and went, but as soon as it emerged, dozens of labs around the world jumped into the fray. Their efforts and the work spawned are continuing to increase our understanding of how zoonotic diseases emerge and spread and how they might be contained, if not prevented.