July 2, 2014, SILVER SPRING, Md. (NNS) – A team of researchers from the Naval Medical Research Center, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. Three in Cairo, Egypt, completed a full genome sequence of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Corona virus, or MERS-CoV.
MERS-CoV is a recently emerged virus that can cause a highly lethal pneumonia. While the majority of the cases are limited to the Middle East, there have been cases reported in Europe and at least two confirmed cases in the United States. The sequence data were published in the online journal Genome Announcements.
The genome sequence and manuscript are a result of this multi-center effort to develop vaccines and medical countermeasures to combat the virus.
Dr. Kenneth Frey, the project lead in the Genomics Department at NMRC’s Biological Defense Research Directorate (BDRD) is the primary author of the publication.
“When we examined the genetic changes in the virus, we found that it seems to be evolving at a very slow rate. This is a critical finding that will enable development of vaccines and therapeutics” said Frey.
Cmdr. Guillermo Pimentel, deputy director at BDRD, added, “Publication of this genome is a key step in organizing and developing an effective public health response to this new threat. It is the hope of our research team that the genome is stable enough to target surface proteins with antibody or small molecule therapies.”
BDRD, located at Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, is recognized as a world leader in detection and confirmatory analysis of bio-threat agents.
Researchers there have made major strides in genomics, bioinformatics and bacteriophage research. They have undertaken a large-scale high throughput genomics effort in sequencing all agents closely related to classic bio-threat agents. The laboratory has the latest sequencing technology and bioinformatic capabilities to sequence over 100 bacterial genomes per year.