Putting DNA to Work
  INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Why Are People Suddenly Ill?

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What Is This New Disease?

  • Is it a virus?
  • Is it a bacteria?
  • Is it from a natural source?
  • Is it from a hostile attack?

In 2002, a growing number of people suddenly became ill with an unknown condition. The outbreak, which seemed to begin in East Asia, came to be known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

Identifying infectious agents quickly is a goal of public health response. But growing cultures and identifying strains is a time-consuming process.

The identification of the cause of SARS provides an example of the great speed that modern DNA sequencing has brought to the detection of infectious diseases. In this case, a new tool that uses the wealth of available DNA sequence information was used to identify the SARS disease agent as a strain of coronavirus in just 24 hours. This information guided public health researchers to the source of the SARS virus in wild animals. This DNA technique can be used to rapidly detect and identify new outbreaks, whether they stem from natural sources or criminal activity, thereby saving many lives.

The following sections describe how DNA evidence was used to identify the source of SARS.

Streamling the Process
Identify the Disease
Finding the Source

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Identify the Disease
A new tool that uses the wealth of available DNA sequence information was used to identify the SARS disease agent as a strain of coronavirus in just 24 hours. See if you can identify the disease in this activity.

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Streamlining the Process [ next ]