Pharmaceutical International News - July 2012
First Virtual Bacterium May Unlock New Drugs
Posted by Paul Fiddian - Pharmaceutical International's Lead Reporter on 25/07/2012 - 10:30:00
The US National Institutes of Health has hailed a computer-generated virtual germ model as a major breakthrough towards the production of new treatment drugs.
For the first time, a complete bacterium has been produced as a computer model. Its advent gives researchers the tools to be able to manipulate genome models on computers, free of the dangers associated with the same processes carried out for real under lab conditions.
The bacterium selected is Mycoplasma genitalium, which is present in several types of vaginal and urethral infections.
The Stanford University research team that created the virtual bacterium model used Mycoplasma on account of its low gene-count - with only 525 genes present, it's got far fewer than the likes of E.coli. In fact, until a decade ago, it was thought to have the smallest genome of any organism, but that attribute's since been taken by Nanoarchaeum.
A comprehensive research study preceded their computer modelling work, with no less than 900 papers studied. This allowed them to incorporate close to 2,000 behaviours associated with the Mycoplasma genitalium bacterium and sort the 525 genes into algorithms.
First Bacterium Model
"The answer is simply cancer is not a one-gene phenomenon - it's thousands of genes interacting together, and other factors interacting in complicated ways", Stanford University's Markus Covert, who led this research, explained in a statement on the first virtual bacterium model. "The fact is, we won't be able to understand how those things interact together unless we use a rational, computer-based approach."
Mycoplasma genitalium causes a range of sexually-transmitted diseases including Chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Symptoms associated with it include a burning sensation, discharge, urethritis and itching but a number of drug treatments are available to counter it. Among them are Levofloxacin, Ofloxacin, Doxycycline and Erythromycin.
The Mycoplasma genitalium modelling work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. According to program director James Anderson, it stands as a significant step towards discovering "new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of disease."
Image copyright US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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