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Sunday 27th May 2018

S Africa cracks XDR-TB genome

20th November 2007

Scientists in South Africa have completed their sequencing of the genome of a massively drug-resistant form of tuberculosis (TB).


Taken from an infected patient in the King Edward VIII Hospital in KwaZulu Natal, the strain of the extremely drug-resistant TB, known as XDR-TB, was analysed in full by researchers at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu Natal and the National Genomics Platform.

They carried out the sequencing 20 times to prevent errors. They now hope that the information yielded from the analysis of the genome will lead to better diagnostic techniques and treatments for the disease.

XDR-TB is caused by a strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis which has developed resistance to almost all the drugs available to treat it, often because patients have a tendency to quit taking antibiotics after they feel better.

The genome sequence should also provide a reference for further sequencing projects of XDR and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB).

The project was funded by Lifelab, under the South African Department of Science and Technology, at an undisclosed cost to the taxpayer.

The next step, experts say, will be to develop a diagnostic kit for this strain of XDR-TB, which takes as long as a month to diagnose with current procedures.

Willem Sturm, dean of the School of Medicine and head of the research team, said the sequencing of the genome was a major breakthrough.

Sturm said the successful sequencing had, in a short space of time, led to a focus on drug and vaccine development which would enable clinicians to treat the disease.

The breakthrough was achieved by using "pyro-sequencing" technology, where massive amounts of information are produced in parallel.

James Sakwa, manager of the National Genomics Platform, said the entire genome was sequenced in a week using this technology. Previously, the same result would have taken about a year.

Proposals for the sequencing of other TB strains are currently being considered by the National Genomics Platform. Experts are unsure of exactly how many strains of XDR-TB are circulating in the population.


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