South African scientists announced on Thursday that they have for the first time been able to fully decode the genetic blueprint to drug resistant tuberculosis - and it took them slightly more than a week.
Previously, the attempt to sequence the entire genome of one strain of Extensively Drug Resistant Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (XDR-TB) could have been expected to take at least a year using old technology.
Dr James Sakwa, the head of the National Genomics Platform, said he believed that it was the first time that an entire genome of XDR-TB had been sequenced.
He stressed that it was not the first time that TB had been sequenced, but it was the first time that a drug resistant strain of the disease had been fully sequenced.
The National Genomics Platform is a joint venture between LIFElab and the University of KwaZulu-Natal and receives funding as part of the Department of Science and Technology's (DST) National Biotechnology Strategy.
Explaining the importance of the sequencing, Sakwa said: "This gives us the ability to understand the mechanisms that cause drug resistance in TB.
"It will give us an ability to develop new diagnostics tool that are much faster than the current ones."
Currently it takes nearly a month to determine with which strain of TB a patient is infected.
"It will also help us to do research for a new drug against TB."
Professor Willem Sturm, dean of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and head of the research team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said, "Through the successful sequencing of the XDR organism's full genome, we are able to analyse the genes based on their structure in order to develop a rapid test to diagnose the disease of TB."
More than 8.8 million people worldwide are infected with TB every year, of whom 1.6 million die. – (Sapa)
Multi-drug resistant TB