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Infectious microbes may adapt faster than believed

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December 2, 2005

Source: Simon Fraser University:

Infectious microbes may adapt faster than believed

Fiona Brinkman, 604.291.,5646,
Stuart Colcleugh, Media & PR, 604.291.3035,

December 02, 2005
Simon Fraser University molecular biologist Fiona Brinkman's lab has discovered that infectious disease-causing microbes may adapt considerably faster to efforts to control them than was previously believed .

"We've found evidence these microbes may have access to a larger 'arsenal' of disease-causing factors such as proteins," says Brinkman of her team's findings published this month in the distinguished journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Genetics.

"This has serious implications. It means we should not let our guard down and we need to develop more, genuinely new, approaches to control infectious diseases if we are to keep such diseases in check."

Brinkman's lab is working to do just that as part of an international research team recently awarded $17 million to battle pathogenic microbes - bacteria and viruses that kill huge numbers of people and animals each year.

As a co-investigator on the Pathogenomics of Innate Immunity (PI2) project, Brinkman will receive a $1-million share of the grant from Genome Canada and Genome BC to improve treatments for infectious diseases.

PI2 scientists in BC, Saskatchewan, England, Singapore and Ireland are working to determine how genes common to humans and animals can be modified to make innate immune systems more impenetrable to microbial pathogens.

"The innate immune system provides the initial line of defence against an invading microbe," explains Brinkman, the research director of bioinformatics on PI2. "It makes sense to beef up that system's ability to shut out pathogens, rather than rely on antibiotics to kill pathogens after they have already gained a foothold in the body."

Building on her research into how microbes mimic their hosts' gene functions to bypass their innate immune systems, Brinkman will create the world's first innate immune database.

Brinkman's PI2 project partners will conduct gene knockout experiments to see how the salmonella bacteria reacts to innate immune system genes being turned on and off. She will collect, cross-reference and analyze this data, ultimately creating a computational reference manual on how to build the most pathogenic microbe-resistant innate immune systems.

"If we can figure out which genes need to be turned on or off to boost our immune system function, without prompting that system to cause harmful inflammation, then we'll have won a major battle," says Brinkman.





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