Researchers, companies quick to crack E. coli case

The deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe has at least given biotech companies and researchers a reason to brag about their roles in helping to identify the strain responsible with press releases and flying fast and furious. But a few companies and research groups can claim credit for the bulk of the sleuth work. Researchers at the Beijing Genomics Institute, working together with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf did the genetic-sequencing grunt work.

But the company of the day is Ion Torrent, a startup bought by Life Technologies last year. The desktop decoder turned out to be faster and more convenient for the Chinese and German researchers, reports Forbes' Matthew Herper. "The PGM is finished sequencing in the amount of time you spend to just prep the other machine," Jonathan Rothberg, the entrepreneur behind Ion Torrent, told Herper, referring to the Personal Genome Machine. "It's a machine that gets used."

The Chinese and German scientists say it's an entirely new strain, but some scientists are skeptical, saying that it may be rare, but not new. Robert Tauxe, a foodborne disease expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press that the strain had previously caused a single case in Korea.

Meanwhile, Gaithersburg, MD-based OpGen has announced that it has successfully completed whole genome maps of the E. coli outbreak, in cooperation with University Hospital Münster, using the company's optical mapping system. A release from the company says it completed the process in less than 48 hours.

"Working with OpGen, Optical Mapping allowed us to quickly compare multiple isolates from this outbreak to demonstrate convincingly the clonality of the ongoing outbreak here in Germany," University Hospital's Harmsen said in the release.

Other groups claiming some credit include The Genome Analysis Centre in the UK., which "crowd-sourced" a genome analysis through scientific cooperation throughout Europe.

And, according to Wall Street Journal editorial writer Anne Jolis, all this science is well and good, but the real culprit is an anti-science attitude in Europe. The origin of the E. coli outbreak came from tainted sprouts in an organic farm. In other words, it wasn't anything a little irradiation couldn't have cured.

- Read a report on the Chinese-German research from the Xinhua news agency
AP filed this report
- Matthew Herper writes more about Ion Torrent in Forbes
- and so does Technology Review
- here's a release on the crowd-sourcing angle
- OpGen issued this release on its optical mapping system
- while WSJ's Anne Jolis blames it on organics

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