USAMRIID proposes viral genome sequencing standards

Scientists with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases recently proposed a set of standards that would develop commonalities among researchers attempting to sequence viral genomes and characterize viral stocks.

The proposed system, which was recently published in mBio, is the result of a collaborative efforts by scientists from multiple leading institutions, including the J. Craig Venter Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Genomes include the genetic material of an organism in DNA or RNA. The genome has both genes and non-coding sequences. By determining the genetic sequence of an organism, scientists can ascertain information that can be applied in multiple medical and scientific disciplines.

"Thanks to high-throughput sequencing technologies, genome sequencing has become a common component in nearly all aspects of viral research, including molecular epidemiology, drug and vaccine development, surveillance and diagnostics," Gustavo Palacios, the senior author of the study, said. "Thus, we are currently experiencing an explosion in both the number of available genome sequences and the number of institutions producing such data."

While a significant amount of viral genome sequencing is taking place, there is no common vocabulary about the completion of a certain viral genome. The researchers outlined five standard categories that encompass all stages of viral genome finishing. They defined the categories using criteria that apply regardless of the technology used for sequencing.

"Because technology may phase out quickly, we wanted the standards to be 'agnostic' - meaning they're not tied to a particular platform - so they can continue to be relevant over time," Jason Ladner, the paper's first author, said.

The standards could be used by federal agencies that approve and regulate products related to viruses, such as therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Interagency Filovirus Animal Non-Clinical Group have already started to incorporate the standards into their evaluation and planning procedures. The DTRA, Food and Drug Administration and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense collaborated with USAMRIID on the project.

USAMRIID seeks to protect warfighters from biological threats and be prepared to investigate public health threats and disease outbreaks.