Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

Crunching genomes to boost animal health

FAO has chosen the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) as a designated reference centre to expand its access to state-of the-art technology in combating dangerous viral infections, including avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease, in farm animals and wildlife. 
The SIB is equipped with high-performance computers, software, databases, and a knowledge base used for screening and monitoring such zoonotic diseases as avian influenza (also known as bird flu), which strike animals but can also be transmitted to humans. 
Working closely with the FAO, SIB experts have developed tools to improve early detection and fast alert systems to prevent and respond to transboundary disease emergencies in poultry or livestock. 
"The new technology helps us understand biological threats so as to help countries prevent, better respond, and ultimately protect the health of humans, animals, and the environment," said FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. 
SIB specializes in bioinformatics, a relatively new science, which employs computer technology to study biological data. Scientists use bioinformatics to collect, process, and analyze information on the genomes of pathogens - the genetic material peculiar to specific micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, that cause diseases in their hosts. 
This lets them compare genomes, understand protein structures, and identify how diseases work at the molecular level. Such information enables scientists to develop new drugs and target treatments as well as improve the effectiveness of existing medicines. 
The new technologies play an important role in understanding the nature and dynamics of biological threats, and the FAO, in collaboration with SIB, has developed online e-learning courses on bioinformatics in viral pathogens that can help laboratory technicians, physicians, veterinarians, and researchers around the world improve their work while increasing access to this emerging field of expertise. 

Reference Centres 
FAO Reference Centres are regarded as centres of excellence in providing scientific and technical expertise on issues related to the agency's mandate. The FAO has identified 18 technical areas for which collaboration with the reference centres is currently required.


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