New gene identification technique to help underst dangerous new viruses

Scientists studying the genes and proteins of human cells infected with a common cold virus have identified a new gene identification technique that could increase the genetic information we hold on animals by around 70 to 80 per cent.

The findings, published in Nature Methods, could revolutionise our understanding of animal genetics and disease, and improve our knowledge of dangerous viruses such as SARS that jump the species barrier from animals to humans.

Modern advances in genome sequencing - the process of determining the genetic information and variation controlling everything from our eye colour to our vulnerability to certain diseases - has enabled scientists to uncover the genetic codes of a wide range of animals, plants and insects.

Until now, correctly identifying the genes and proteins hidden inside the genetic material of a newly sequenced species has been a monumental undertaking requiring the careful observation and cataloguing of vast amounts of data about the thousands of individual genes that make up any given animal, plant or insect.

Dr David Matthews, the study's lead author and a senior lecturer in virology at the University of Bristol's School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, said,  ''Gene identification is mainly led by computer programmes which search the genome for regions that look like genes already identified in other animals or humans. However, this type of analysis is not always effective.''

The Bristol team has now discovered a more effective way of detecting the genetic information present in animals, plants and insects using cutting-edge analysis tools to directly observe the genes and all the proteins they make.