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What is Pathogenomics, and why is it important?

Pathogenomics is, most simply put, the study of pathogen genomes.  Pathogenomics research holds many possibilities and implications for human health, disease treatment and diagnosis, bioterrorism defense, and agriculture.

For examples of each topic, click the headings below.


Public Health

In the last few years, new high throughput sequencing techniques have made it possible to sequence entire genomes, including pathogen genomes, very quickly.  Obtaining complete pathogen genomes has huge implications for public health in terms of tracking the evolution and transmission of infectious diseases, developing new treatments and vaccines for diseases caused by pathogens, and tracking outbreaks.  In addition, more in depth knowledge about pathogen genomes will lead to faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment for the disease, which could potentially stop outbreaks and pandemics altogether.

With similar implications for public health, pathogenomics is being used to learn more about innate immunity in human populations.  By knocking out certain genes in pathogens and observing how that affects their ability to infect humans and animals, researchers can begin to understand the mechanism behind infection.  This in turn could lead to new approaches to treatment development and preventive techniques.


Food Production

Pathogenomics also hold implications for food production and future methods to protect crops from pests and disease. Having a complete understanding of a pthogen's genome could lead to techniques to target and eliminate that pathogen specifically and prevent its spread through crop fields. Understanding the genome could also lead to safer treatment of fields as we learn how the pathogen interacts with human genomes.



Additionally, pathogenomics is used to learn more about pathogens used for bioterrorism.  In an effort to improve defense against biothreat agents, pathogenomics research aims to improve our understanding of how these pathogens spread through human systems by studying closely related bacterial organisms in addition to the biothreat agent and the human host’s response to infection by the biothreat agent.  Such research could aid in the development of antibiotics and vaccines that would reduce the threat of bioterrorism.  So far, pathogenomics research has helped identify genes acquired by horizontal gene transfer, pseudogenes, evidence of parallel evolution, and much more.


Evolution Over Time

Although often overlooked, genomic research in plant pathogenic bacteria offers significant insight into patterns of infection in human and animal models in addition to the evolution of pathogenic bacteria over time.  Plant pathogenomics also holds great potential for the study of horizontal gene transfer.  This area of research could lead to new agricultural methods, which clearly hold implications for human health, and could improve our understanding of various methods of infection through the study of plant diseases.




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