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Research Area 7.4: Identifying a Path Towards Rapid Discrimination of Infection Disease Outbreaks

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Final rept. 25 Sep 2012-24 Mar 2014

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The low cost and relative ease of obtaining, producing, and disseminating pathogenic organisms or biological toxins in an act of bioterrorism is a significant concern in the United States and other parts of the world. The United States Government began a new civilian biodefense program as early as 1996, motivated by a combination of 1 high-profile terrorist events in the U.S., 2 the extent of chemical and biological warfare program development in Iraq and the former Soviet Union, and 3 both real and fictional accounts of biological threats to the American population. Using next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics technologies to sequence and analyze the whole genomes of emerging pathogens is a capability that can provide genetic analysis of pathogens in a microbial forensics investigation with the highest possible resolution, and can assist in discriminating between natural, accidental, and deliberate causes for infectious disease outbreaks. Here we review NGS and bioinformatics technologies, giving an account of current, near, and long-term capabilities and limitations. Through a series of case studies, we show how NGS and bioinformatics technology can assist in determining whether an infectious disease outbreak is due to accidental, deliberate, or intentional causes and provide recommendations on a path forward to future deployable capability.

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  • Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology

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