Biosurveillance enterprise for operational awareness, a genomic-based approach for tracking pathogen virulence


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Abstract

To protect our civilians and warfighters against both known and unknown pathogens, biodefense stakeholders must be able to foresee possible technological trends that could affect their threat risk assessment. However, significant flaws in how we prioritize our countermeasure-needs continue to limit their development. As recombinant biotechnology becomes increasingly simplified and inexpensive, small groups, and even individuals, can now achieve the design, synthesis, and production of pathogenic organisms for offensive purposes. Under these daunting circumstances, a reliable biosurveillance approach that supports a diversity of users could better provide early warnings about the emergence of new pathogens (both natural and manmade), reverse engineer pathogens carrying traits to avoid available countermeasures, and suggest the most appropriate detection, prophylactic, and therapeutic solutions. While impressive in data mining capabilities, real-time content analysis of social media data misses much of the complexity in the factual reality. Quality issues within free-form user-provided hashtags and biased referencing can significantly undermine our confidence in the information obtained to make critical decisions about the natural vs. intentional emergence of a pathogen. At the same time, errors in pathogen genomic records, the narrow scope of most databases, and the lack of standards and interoperability across different detection and diagnostic devices, continue to restrict the multidimensional biothreat assessment. The fragmentation of our biosurveillance efforts into different approaches has stultified attempts to implement any new foundational enterprise that is more reliable, more realistic and that avoids the scenario of the warning that comes too late. This discussion focus on the development of genomic-based decentralized medical intelligence and laboratory system to track emerging and novel microbial health threats in both military and civilian settings and the use of virulence factors for risk assessment. Examples of the use of motif fingerprints for pathogen discrimination are provided.

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