Toronto: DNA sequencing can reconstruct the spread of killer diseases from person to person, besides quickly identifying the origin and movement of pathogens.
A team from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, Canada, used whole-genome sequencing to analyse the bacterial DNA in samples from 36 of 41 infected individuals in a tuberculosis (TB) outbreak.
They were able to track the pathogen`s movements through the community in British Columbia, including where it started and who infected whom.
From this, they could identify key persons, places, and behaviours that contributed to the spread of the disease.
They showed how the social structure of a community contributed to the rapid spread of TB and that a rise in crack cocaine use in the area may have triggered the outbreak, according to a British Columbia Centre statement.
Earlier, epidemiological tools analysed some - but not all - of the DNA in infected samples.
This gave too little information to accurately reconstruct an outbreak and scientists could only make informed guesses at how a pathogen spread through a population.
Jennifer Gardy from British Columbia Centre who led the study told scientists that "solving" an outbreak - identifying the source of the disease and the underlying patterns of transmission - is the proverbial holy grail of epidemiology.
"Using whole-genome sequencing, we are now able to act like field naturalists and observe how pathogens behave out in the wild. We can see where outbreaks start and how they spread. This level of insight has never been seen before and it promises to change the way we do public heath outbreak investigations," Gardy said.
The findings were presented at the Society for General Microbiology`s Autumn Conference at the University of Warwick in Britain.