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Scientists Using Molecular Epidemiology To Diagnose And Track Disease Outbreaks

The New York Times examines “[n]ew methods of quickly sequencing entire microbial genomes [that] are revolutionizing the field” of molecularly epidemiology and could help public health officials identify and track disease outbreaks.

The newspaper describes the work of several teams that are working in different areas of the field. One team is developing “a kind of weather map of disease patterns” by sampling “sewage treatment plants or places like subways or hospitals” to “tell them exactly what bacteria and viruses are present and how prevalent they are,” according to the New York Times. Other researchers “are sequencing bacterial genomes to find where diseases originated,” and still others “are examining the vast sea of micro-organisms that live peacefully on and in the human body,” the newspaper writes (Kolata, 8/29).

A separate New York Times article looks at one team’s efforts to retrieve and analyze DNA from Black Death cemeteries to determine if the microbe that killed so many in the 14th century is similar to the bacteria that causes bubonic plague today. The team’s findings were published online on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Wade, 8/29).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.