Last week began with a visit of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Dr Vince Cable, to open the Norwich Innovation Centre on the Norwich Research Park. Dr Cable was also shown round The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), where the full array of modern genome sequencing instrumentation was on show, together with some of the tools for analysing genomics data. The point was made that if automobiles had increased in speed at the rate that genome sequencing had over the last 10 years they would now be travelling at millions of miles per hour…

I also attended a wide-ranging meeting between GCSA Sir John Beddington and (Heads of) the ‘wider scientific community’, where Andrew Wadge from the Food Standards Agency and I rehearsed aspects of the recent E. coli (O104 H4) outbreak and on what basis it or similar outbreaks might happen in the UK (whereby one might seek to minimise the likelihood). In one sense, like our prevention of the incursion of Bluetongue virus, this was an outstanding non-story as the correct advice in the UK avoided the mis-identification of the host/vegetable origin of the strain. The modern approach to analysing such bacteria is simply to sequence them, and the raw sequence data were made available shortly after the outbreak. The annotation is being done via a wonderful piece of crowdsourcing, and Lisa Crossman of TGAC was kind enough to provide me with a superb comparative genomic analysis of various pathogenic and commsensal strains of E. coli, that made it very clear exactly what pieces of the genome had likely been acquired by horizontal gene transfer to help create this (not entirely new) strain. Clearly this kind of sequence-driven analysis is likely to play major roles in the analysis of pathogen biology, epidemiology, evolution, breeding and much else. Hence our development of TGAC.

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