Scientists from all over India have put together a visual map of the tuberculosis bacteria’s genome, a tool that will be freely available and could help researchers in their quest to develop a more accurate treatment for the disease.
“The TB genome was sequenced in 1998, but more than half the genes in the genome did not have any function attached to them,” said Vinod Scaria, researcher at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi and one of the principal investigators for the Open Source Drug Discovery project. “We wanted to collect all the information in one place.”
With the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research coordinating their efforts, scientists combed through all the available scientific data about the TB genome, assembling it into a visual map that shows how the bacteria’s different parts interact.
Scientists hope to use the detailed map to pinpoint a gene that could lead to better TB drugs.
“Our aim is to bring out a drug that will shorten TB therapy,” said Zakir Thomas, project director.
More than 300 researchers, most of them students, volunteered to put together the massive map, which was produced in three months and unveiled on Sunday. The students worked in five groups. Each group studied a different aspect of the TB bacteria, which was controlled by a set of genes. They then marked the function of each gene on a master diagram.
“People didn’t believe that we could do this, they told us we wouldn’t get good data,” said Thomas. “But this is a new way of doing science.”
Most drug companies treat their data as highly classified because it can lead to patents. Open source drug discovery reverses that model, making genome data publicly available.