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SARS genome decoding ‘couldn’t have been done without mail’

just got back from a super-quick booze-soaked weekend visit to Ben in SF. It was so good to visit a city once again, and get the opportunity to paint the town red, hit the bars, eat in plentiful cheap restaurants, and generally enjoy city life (which I’ve been missing massively since the move from Dublin). But now back in post-suburban Irvine to cope with the hangover.

Also got to meet up with Komal, one of my co-workers up there — which was cool. Unfortunately it was a super-speedy weekend whistle-stop tour though, so having a good social meet-up with all the guys will have to wait until the next visit. ;)

Net: ‘The Canadian scientists who broke the genetic code for SARS … say they couldn’t have done it without the Internet. … The key to that collaboration was ordinary e-mail‘.

It also turns out the ProMED mailing list was the central point at which SARS reports were collated in the early stages, even despite evasion and cover-up by the Chinese state.

So there you go — as usual, SMTP is the killer app — or in this case, a life-saving app! All the more reason to figure out ways to deal with spam and return SMTP to its top spot in the protocol pantheon.

Good thing the FTC Spam Forum went so well, then. Sounds like there was unprecedented agreement between the non-spam folks, clear understanding of the issues by quite a few of the Washington denizens, and maybe even some good footage of the other side digging holes for themselves.

Health: US, Asian Airlines Disagree on SARS. Me, I just wish the airlines would stop being so bloody cheap, and bring in more fresh air rather than recirculating. ;)

Date: Sun, 04 May 2003 12:20:16 -0400
From: STEPHEN JONES (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected) (spam-protected)
Subject: Internet is a good thing says Steve Jones clone

Internet played a key role in decoding SARS genome, scientists say


OTTAWA (CP) – The Canadian scientists who broke the genetic code for SARS just weeks after the disease appeared say they couldn’t have done it without the Internet.

Scientists from the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre of the B.C. Cancer Agency say their achievement relied on rapid communication with scientists around the world. The key to that collaboration was ordinary e-mail, said Steven Jones of the Vancouver-based research agency in a teleconference Thursday sponsored by Science magazine.

“Within a day of us having a press release announcing our participation in the sequencing we had an amazing amount of e-mail from scientists all around the world,” Jones said.

As soon as the sequence was decoded, the B.C. researchers posted it on the Internet.

“People were, within minutes of that, able to download the sequence and analyse it in their own laboratories and their own computers,” Jones said.

“The Internet has had a profound impact on how this data has been shared and how scientists have collaborated.”

A short time later, researchers at the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control published the sequence of a coronavirus taken from another SARS patient.

The genetic coding for the two viruses were virtually identical, boosting confidence that the coronavirus was in fact the causal agent.

Now both sequences are posted on the World Wide Web for the benefit of researchers in many countries racing to find a reliable test for SARS, and a vaccine to prevent it.

Scientists say the speed of the decoding was amazing.

The first reports of the new disease came from China in November, and on March 13 cases were reported in Toronto and Vancouver. The sequences were posted on the net on April 15.

By contrast, it took years to identify the agents behind diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C.

Mel Crajdon of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said all evidence points to the coronavirus as being the cause of SARS, despite some seemingly contradictory findings.

Earlier this week Frank Plummer, who heads the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, said he was puzzled by the number of people who show evidence of the SARS coronavirus but not symptoms of the disease.

Crajdon suggested the apparent anomaly is due to imperfect understanding of how the disease presents itself, as well as lack of reliable tests for the presence of the virus.

“I’m not surprised by the results that have been obtained to date and I think that they will rapidly improve,” he said.

More than 5,400 cases of SARS have been diagnosed worldwide, with at least 394 deaths. In Canada, there have been 23 deaths, all in the Toronto area.

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