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How grid computing helps scientists to discover new diseases, by identifying new viruses from previously unknown genetic sequences. Identifying as many viruses as possible improves the chances of correct diagnostics and helps to determine the best treatment for patients. Lia van der Hoek and colleagues from the Virus Discovery Unit, at the Academic Medical Centre of the University of Amsterdam (AMC), has been working on VIDISCA – a method to spot new viruses from previously unidentified genetic sequences.
Respiratory infections such as croup (that can cause a narrowed trachea, shown by an arrow) are a major child health problem, but many are caused by still unknown viruses. The hunt for new viruses starts at the hospitals, with the collection of nose and throat swabs from affected patients. Success first came in 2004, when the team reported the discovery of the coronavirus NL63, which is implicated in croup – a disease that causes throat swelling and coughing in children under six-years old. The genome of the coronavirus NL63 was sequenced and the analysis showed that the virus was a new species with distinctive features. Over the past six years Lia’s work on the VIDISCA method has benefitted from developments in the so-called next generation sequencing techniques.
The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has created the BLAST tool to compare given sequences with databases via the web.
Looking for a solution, Lia contacted Antoine van Kampen, head of the AMC bioinformatics department, who assigned Barbera van Schaik to the problem. The workflows and databases were made available to the Virus Discovery Unit via the e-BioInfra platform developed and operated by the e-bioscience group of Silvia Olabarriaga.

With these tools at hand, Lia’s team is able to analyse a VIDISCA-454 experiment within 24 hours compared to weeks of intensive manual work. Lia's team is able to analyse a VIDISCA-454 experiment within 24 hours, compared to weeks of intensive manual work.
This case study was prepared with the help of Lia van der Hoek, Silvia Olabarriaga and Barbera van Schaik. However, in up to 40% of the cases it’s not possible to define the exact cause of the disease and this means that there are viruses still unknown to science.
Knowing which virus is responsible for which disease is also very important to detect potential epidemics or to assess the seriousness of viral infections. Back at the lab, the first step of the VIDISCA method is to remove residual cells and other biologic material, to enrich the sample’s viral genetic material.
The virus was spotted in samples taken from a 7-month old baby, admitted to a Dutch hospital with symptoms of acute respiratory infection. But uploading data from VIDISCA-454 to this portal proved to be virtually impossible, given that the average experiment produces approximately 400.000 sequences.
A test with 1444 samples produced 4,783,684 sequences and showed that the analysis can be repeated within 14 hours, compared to 17 days if it would run sequentially on a local server. Lia now hopes to find new viruses linked to respiratory infections, diarrhoea, meningitis, encephalitis and other serious diseases. The genetic sequences in the sample are then amplified with standard laboratory techniques.

One way of solving the conundrum is to compare the mystery sequences to known viruses catalogued in massive reference databases, such as GenBank.
While other viruses succumb when they are defeated by the immune system, the herpes virus remains in the body forever, lying in wait, sometimes reactivating years later. A new study has found that new infections may weaken the body just enough to favor the reawakening of herpes.
Via Gofolic.For quite a while, scientists have been trying to figure out exactly why the virus sometimes reactivates, even after lying dormant for decades. Herpes, which has been associated to cancer, could be combated with more efficiency if researchers understand the underlying mechanisms of the pathogen.
Now, a team has found that interactions with other infections later in life are the catalysts for the awakening.“Probably 95 percent of us have been infected with at least one herpes virus, but many people never have a problem with it,” said study co-author Rolf Renne, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the UF College of Medicine and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the UF Health Cancer Center. There are eight herpes viruses that infect humans, causing diseases that range from cold sores and chickenpox to mononucleosis and cancer. The fact that Renne, one of the leading voices in the field believes that almost all of us have been infected is quite worrying – especially when in the vast majority of the cases the virus is never truly eliminated from the body.

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