Scientists are on track to map the genetic fingerprints of germs, which they claim would help prevent the spread of infections by identifying the source of outbreaks of diseases.
A team in Britain is in fact working on a DNA database that will help doctors to exactly determine the route by which patients have picked up bacteria and thus to control spread of infection.
According to the scientists, when a patient gets infected with bacteria, the germ’s DNA will be sequenced and compared with samples in the database to find out whether the infection was present when the patient was admitted to hospital or if it was acquired on the ward.
Derrick Crook, a clinical microbiologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, who is leading the Modernising Medical Microbiology initiative, said that it could transform infection control in hospitals and the community.
“We want to forensically describe how germs are transmitted and work out better ways of intervening and interrupting that transmission. This will help us to identify emerging threats, and may give us an understanding of which genetic changes in germs are harmful and which are not.
“We’ll be using the genomic sequence data as the equivalent of a barcode, which tells us what we’re dealing with and where it might have come from,” he was quoted by ‘The Times’ as saying.
According to Peter Donnelly of Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at University of Oxford, “If someone gets a bug in hospital, you want to know whether they’ve brought it in with them or picked it up on the ward. Genomics should be able to tell us.”
Work has begun on sequencing 300 different samples of S. aureus and C. difficile, and the tuberculosis research will start this year, the scientists say, adding that their aim is to use the genetic mutations that each of these organisms acquire to construct their family trees.
Professor Donnelly said: “The hope is that this will give us exquisitely detailed information with which to track infection and learn about patterns of transmission. In a sense, it is like genetic fingerprinting.
“It could start to tell us the factors in the genome of a bug that influence virulence. It’s a huge opportunity to learn about the biology of these organisms, and why they make us sick.