10 Dec OpGen Database Helps to Reduce Bioterrorist Threat
MADISON, Wis. – The need to rapidly identify biological agents that could be used for bioterrorist attacks has led to the creation of a genome database map by OpGen Inc., a Madison based bio-informatics company that specializes in optical mapping of DNA.
One of the most infectious bacteria, Francisella tularensis, is a causative agent of Tularemia, a disease often referred to as rabbit or deer fever. The bacterium is naturally found in rodents, rabbits and hares in the United States. If F. tularensis was used as an airborne biological weapon, without treatment people could experience severe respiratory illness, including life-threatening pneumonia and systemic infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, extremely sophisticated laboratories and skilled scientists would be needed to isolate and grow sufficient quantities of the bacteria for distribution as aerosol weapons. It is estimated that release of the organism over a population of 5 million people could result in as many as 250,000 cases of tularemia and 19,000 fatalities.
OpGen has developed single-molecule DNA analysis technology that provides for whole genome analysis in large populations. The company has applied their technology to create a genome map of this Category “A” pathogen.
“Early identification of the causative agents in disease outbreaks, whether natural, or the result of bioterror attacks, is critical to mounting an effective response,” said Colin Dykes, Chief Scientific Officer of OpGen.
According to Dykes, Francisella tularensis was selected for analysis because of its potential as a bio-terror agent and its potential to be more dangerous than anthrax as a bioterror weapon.
OpGen plans to prepare additional genome maps from a wide range of potential biothreat organisms, including those affecting plants and animals, as well as people, as a resource for rapid identification of suspect organisms. OpGen can also apply its genome database technology to trace the source of agents involved in disease outbreaks.
OpGen, founded in 2001, is a venture-backed company that employs about 55 people and is pioneering the analysis of whole genomes by means of optical mapping based on the research of Dr. David Schwartz, the inventor of optical mapping technologies. Optical maps are produced directly from DNA samples obtained from any genome and without the use of DNA synthesis, DNA sequencing, DNA amplification, probe labeling or microarrays. The company raised $500,000 in a Series A round of funding in October of 2001 from Mason Wells and has secured $2.3 million in a Series B round from investors that