A Professor with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine says the use of metagenomics in diagnosing infectious diseases offers the potential to provide information valuable in designing treatments.
The use of metagenomics enables scientists to examine multiple sets of DNA within entire communities of organisms.
Dr. Janet Hill, a Professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology with the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, says a nasal swab or a fecal specimen, will contain DNA from the host animal and DNA from potentially thousands of microbes.
I think in those more complex situations where you may be dealing with complex infections with multiple pathogens or even in the rare cases where you might discover some new pathogen at work in a population, I think that’s where we’ll see this. Another potentially useful outcome from this kind of diagnostic approach is that, in addition to getting an inventory of all of the organisms that are present in a sample, you also get more information about them.
A lot of diagnostic tests will give you perhaps an identification of a species of bacterium so you can detect something like E. coli in a specimen. But we know that there are lots of different strains of bacteria that have very different roles to play in disease. There are organisms that carry antibiotic resistance genes that are important so, by taking a metagenomic approach, we get a more holistic view of the organisms that are present in a sample. So I think in the future it may well be a very useful tool for doing things like assessing what the collection of antimicrobial resistance genes are in a population of animals which might be useful information that’s part of the data that’s used in order to design treatment strategies.
~ Dr. Janet Hill, University of Saskatchewan
Dr. Hill says high throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics offers tremendous opportunity to support animal health.