Magazine article Science News

Genome Sequenced for Skin Disease Virus

Magazine article Science News

Genome Sequenced for Skin Disease Virus

Article excerpt

By creating millions of people with weakened immune systems, HIV has thrown a spotlight on many lesser-known infectious agents that have come to plague AIDS patients. Among them is the virus that causes molluscum contagiosum, a skin disease marked by the formation of papules, small dome-shaped bumps. In an advance that could lead to a treatment for the condition, investigators have now deciphered the entire genetic blueprint of the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). That feat, reported in the Aug. 9 Science, is especially significant because MCV has been difficult to study by other means.

Investigators haven't yet grown MCV in the laboratory, nor have they found a laboratory animal that they can infect with the virus. Considering those obstacles, "the best way to get information about the virus was to sequence its genes," says Bernard Moss of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md.

Moss and his colleagues spent more than a year determining the identity and order of the nearly 200,000 pairs of nucleotides, or chemical subunits of DNA, that make up MCV's genome.

Once researchers had the genetic sequence in hand, they compared it to the genomes of the related smallpox and cowpox viruses. The MCV genome contains at least 163 genes, 104 of which resemble genes belonging to the two better-known pox viruses. Most of the shared genes play a role in controlling the activity of viral genes or in allowing the viruses to reproduce, says Moss.

Reflecting the dissimilarity of the illnesses produced by MCV and the deadly smallpox virus, the two genomes differ significantly in the viral genes employed during interactions between the virus and an infected host. For example, more than 20 smallpox genes that encode proteins known to manipulate the host immune response are missing from MCV, notes Moss. …

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