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UT Veterinarian Helps CDC Solve SARS Puzzle

April 2, 2003

KNOXVILLE - The "killer flu" known as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, may be linked to a family of viruses that cause respiratory and intestinal illnesses in animals and the common cold in humans, a University of Tennessee professor said Wednesday.

Dr. David Brian, a virologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine, is working with the Centers for Disease Control to identify the virus that causes SARS. He is in daily contact with scientists at the CDC.

"We think SARS is a coronavirus, based on very limited genome sequence information. But we need to compare it to other coronaviruses," Brian said. Genome sequencing describes the full set of genes in organisms.

Brian, who has studied coronaviruses for two decades, said the CDC is particularly interested in his work on the bovine coronavirus, which is found in the intestinal tracts of cattle. Initial information suggests it may be genetically related to the SARS virus.

"We have completely sequenced the bovine coronavirus genome," he said. "That sequence can help the CDC clone and sequence their SARS genome faster. If it's a close relative, then the sequence of our genome will be similar."

The genome comparison is important, he said, "because from that, we can deduce the protein sequence of the virus and compare it to all other known coronaviruses that have been sequenced, like pig virus, or bovine virus, or chicken virus, or one of the two human corona viruses that cause the common cold. We know for sure it's not just the common cold virus; there's something different about the SARS virus. We just won't know what that difference is until its whole genome is sequenced."

When the SARS viral genome sequence is known and the proteins have been identified, work on developing a definitive standardized diagnostic can be completed. The development of vaccines and potential treatment for SARS will follow, Brian said.

Sandra Harbison
Media Relations
UT College of Veterinary Medicine
865-974-7377


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