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Next Generation

Pathogenic information a cough away
As biological weapons and the flu vaccine shortage make headlines, defense and health officials are taking steps to ward off future crises. The Computation Institute, a collaborative effort between the University and Argonne National Laboratory, hopes to lessen pathogenic threats by improving information sharing.

The institute will help set up the new National Microbial Pathogen Data Resource Center, including an easy-to-access database that compiles experimental research and modeling results. Although the program will build on existing knowledge, the center also hopes to dig a level deeper, identifying the underlying causes of diseases, not just symptoms.

“In essence we’re trying to find what makes these pathogens tick,” explains Rick Stevens, a computer-science professor at Chicago and codirector of the new center.

A team of experts in biology, biophysics, microbiology, computer science, and bioinformatics will lead the center, funded by an $18 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While the database will contain hundreds of genomes, research projects will focus on eight main pathogens, including Streptococcus bacteria (pictured above), which causes pneumonia and meningitis, among other maladies.—S.I.A.




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