#17: The Common Cold Is Decoded

And now we have a potential target: parts of the genome that are found within all 100 strains of sequenced cold viruses.

By Megan Talkington|Monday, January 25, 2010

If knowing your enemy is half the battle, we may yet defeat the common cold. A paper published last April in Science detailed how geneticists sequenced the RNA from 100 strains of rhinovirus—all the known types of the leading cause of the cold.

Pulmonologist Stephen Liggett of the University of Maryland School of Medicine says his team found regions of the genome that are similar across all strains. Those sequences, presumably essential to survival, are prime targets for new drugs. Equally notable are the bits of RNA that differ, which may explain why some bugs are nastier than others.

Rhinoviruses can instigate asthma or trigger severe wheezing episodes in asthmatics, but it is unclear whether only certain strains of the virus are to blame. Looking at large numbers of rhinovirus genomes may provide answers. “Just saying it’s rhinovirus is not sufficient, because there is so much diversity,” Liggett says.

And don’t throw out your tissues just yet: No one knows how to defeat any of the strains, and Liggett’s group believes there are many more to be identified. The team is now sequencing 3,000 samples collected from patients at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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