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Systems Biology Analysis Predicts Potential Ocular Pathogenicity of Newly Identified Adenovirus

The ongoing dance between a virus and its host distinctly shapes how the virus evolves. While human adenoviruses typically cause mild infections, recent reports have described newly characterized adenoviruses that can cause severe, sometime fatal, human infections. Researchers from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health in Calgary, Canada, the School of Systems Biology at George Mason University in Virginia, and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center report using a systems biology approach to show how evolution has affected the disease potential of a recently identified novel human adenovirus. Their approach is based on the belief that understanding viral evolution and pathogenicity is essential to our capacity to foretell the potential impact on human disease for new and emerging viruses. Their study was published online on April 9, 2013 in an open-access article in mBio. Since the first adenovirus was characterized in 1953, 69 human adenoviruses (HAdVs) have been recognized as unique types. Analysis of whole-genome sequence data for existing and new HAdVs confirmed a critical role for homologous recombination in adenovirus evolution, leading to new and sometime serious human infections. The emergence of new HAdV types, with several associated with severe eye infection, prompted the investigators to apply a systems biology approach to try to predict the ocular tropism of a previously uncharacterized and highly novel HAdV, isolated by nasopharyngeal swab from a 4-month-old boy with several bronchiolitis. A combined genomic, bioinformatics, and biological analysis identified a unique deletion in a key protein of the viral capsid and further suggested the potential of the virus to cause severe ocular infection. The results point toward a possible approach for predicting pathogenicity for newly identified and recently emergent human pathogens. [Press release] [mBio article]