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Visiting genetics scientist: Bacteria can be used to heal
Bacteria from a healthy person can be transplanted to an ill person to help them recuperate. Visiting Jamaican-born Prof Karen E Nelson, president J Craig Venter Institute, explained this was one of the strides being made in genomics, which is the study of the collective genetic material in an organism.
Nelson made this comment at a lecture themed Genomics Advances—Vast Implications for Improving Human Health and the World Around Us at Noor Hassanali (former president) Lecture Theatre UWI, St Augustine Campus, on Thursday. It was hosted by the Faculty of Science and Technology/Faculty of Medical Sciences, Genomics Advances. Nelson was accompanied by Tim Stockwell, assistant professor Viral Informatics, who also shared his expertise on topics like sequencing.
Expounding on bacteria transplants, Nelson said, “You can take bacteria from a healthy person and give it to a sick person and the sick person would get well. We don’t understand it but the sick person gets well. A lot of bacteria are starting to emerge. “There are huge problems. They are resistant to and invade humans. We are looking at different ways to alter the medicine that is provided. We are seeking to increase understanding of the complex diseases, health and understanding diseases.”
Nelson cited Mali, Africa, as a stomping ground for malaria studies. Nelson said a population that gets affected impacts upon the likelihood of somebody getting malaria. “Malaria season in Mali is intense and sharply demarcated,” she added. Stockwell: Need to
In his discourse, Stockwell spoke about sequencing in relation to viruses—from human, avian and animal hosts, especially swine. Sequencing, which is a series of the consequences (one’s symptoms and responses to medicines while battling the virus), would better help scientists to treat and understand viruses. Stockwell said, “If you have samples, you can do the high quality sequencing for free.
“Different types of viruses work with human and avian hosts. Swine are important. Japanese viruses work closely with measles, mumps and rubella. There is the need to look at the data. People are doing samples from around the world. If you have samples, you can do the sampling for free.”
Stockwell said in the old days, there was one flu. “More flus are present today and require next generation sequencing. There is the need for the lab to deal with the big data...Many different universities are looking at new ways of analysing data. We decided to experiment with synthetic genetics.”
While the team continues to engage in research, Stockwell said it would unearth “how the viruses are evolving and what should go into the vaccine. We are tracking the flu over time.” In an effort to save people’s lives, Stockwell said, “There is the need for faster vaccine development. We need to shrink the time scale, put the focus on synthetic genomics, look at the sequence that is available electronically.”
He cited education programmes in the schools as a key intervention. Among those present were Prof John Agard, Department of Life Sciences. Agard said: “It is interesting to see the vast range of things they are doing. It shows how far we are behind.”
About J Craig Venter Institute
It (JCVI) is a non-profit genomics research institute founded by J Craig Venter, PhD, in October 2006. The Institute was the result of consolidating four organisations: the Centre for the Advancement of Genomics, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, and the J Craig Venter Science Foundation Joint Technology Centre. It has facilities in Rockville, Maryland and La Jolla, California.
The institute studies the societal implications of genomics in addition to genomics itself. Research involves genomic medicine; environmental genomic analysis; clean energy; synthetic biology; and ethics, law, and economics. The institute employs over 400 people, including Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith.
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