Researchers at the Harvard University and the Broad Institute of MIT have recently build a computational method that designs ‘molecular baits’ for every virus strain infectious to human beings, including Zika viruses that are difficult to detect in clinical samples due to low abundance.
As reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the new technology could help all genomic sequencing centers in the world monitor diseases more effectively and low cost, which may lead to better control and management of outbreaks.
The new computational method – Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization or CATCH – will enable researchers worldwide to design probes for capturing the genetic material of any combination of microbes, even any strains of virus that infect humans.
Following an input of genomic data of human virus that has been uploaded to the GenBank sequence database – National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the new computational method will be able to determine the optimal sets of probes to recover the genetic material.
Then, sequences are sent to organizations that produce research probes, which can be used for isolating the desired DNA of microbes to be sequenced, thereby upgrading clinical samples for the microbe or infectious virus of interest.
With this technique, the team could synthesize probes that helped discover the spread of Zika virus across various geographic regions way before scientists could detect it.
According to researchers, CATCH technology is promising for better genomic surveillance and ability to inform attempts to contain an epidemic in the future. In addition, it could be a tool for examining undiagnosed fevers suspected to be caused by a virus.
Co-senior author Christian Matranga said that as genomic sequencing plays a critical role in disease surveillance, novel technology such as CATCH will help researchers detect disease outbreaks earlier and generate more data on microbes that can be shared with broader research communities.
The software is made publicly available and can be accessed on GitHub.