Brussels, 11 Jan 2005
Researchers from Sweden, the UK and the US have deciphered the complete DNA sequence of Francisella tularensis, one of the world's most infectious germs. The sequence took five years to complete.
Defence experts have welcomed the news, as the bacterium is a major bioweapon candidate. Just ten microbes are needed to bring on tularaemia, known as 'rabbit fever', in humans and animals.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the airborne dispersal of 50 kg of Francisells tularensis over an urban area with five million inhabitants would kill 19,000 and incapacitate a further 250,000 people. Those who did not die would be ill for weeks or months.
The genome sequencing work has already had an impact on the search for a vaccine, with protein targets already having been identified.
The scientists have also found a rare cluster of genes that are likely to be responsible for causing illness. These genes have never before been found in a living organism, and their presence suggests that the microbe may have previously unknown ways of causing disease.