BLACKSBURG, Va, December 2, 2013 – Researchers at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute have recently returned from a trip halfway across the globe in the race to confront drug-resistant tuberculosis. As part of a week-long course in comparative genomics organized by researchers from the Broad Institute, senior bioscientist and computational biologist Rebecca Wattam trained participants on using the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC). PATRIC is a web-based portal that provides bacterial infectious disease researchers with analysis tools and comparative data.  The course took place at the Kwazulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) in Durban, South Africa and involved participants from all over Africa.

Researchers in the CyberInfrastructure division were asked to teach a week-long course in comparative genomics.

“This course is especially important because it helps clinicians better understand how genomics and genomics resources can help them find better drug targets and thus ultimately create better therapies against drug-resistant TB,” Wattam noted.

Tuberculosis or TB, a deadly disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has been on the decline until recently, when drug-resistant strains of the disease became more widespread, especially among patients whose immune systems were already compromised, such as those already suffering from AIDS.

PATRIC helps combat diseases like TB by providing analysis tools to aid in identifying and studying bacterial genomes and related information. It has been in development over the last nine years as part of a contract with the National Institute of

Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and was instrumental in aiding scientists in understanding the European E. coli outbreak in 2011.

Wattam traveled to South Africa on Sept 23 to join five scientists from the Broad Institute and one from Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies as instructors.  Wattam trained participants on how best to use PATRIC along with additional bioinformatics resources. This training is the latest in a series of almost 20 workshops featuring PATRIC with over 600 total participants from the United States and other countries, to create on-the-ground collaborations with international researchers battling bacterial diseases.

Dr. Rebecca Wattam trained participants on using the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC).

Dr. William Bishai, laboratory head at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said, “The bioinformatics course was extraordinarily well-received. There has been a groundswell of praise for the thoroughness and preparation that went into the course. “

With such collaborations, it’s hoped that scientists will be able to make use of PATRIC’s resources to identify new strains of disease and find therapies for existing ones. The PATRIC team is continuing to deliver workshops, including webinars, to TB and additional research groups. For more information about PATRIC, please visit

Financial support for the course was provided by NIAID, K-RITH, and K-RITH’s Connect Africa Scholarships.

The PATRIC Project is one of five Bioinformatics Resource Centers (BRCs) funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. Each center specializes in a different group of pathogens including, but not limited to, NIAID Category A-C Priority Pathogen lists for biodefense research, and pathogens causing emerging/reemerging infectious diseases. PATRIC is funded under Contract No. HHSN272200900040C, awarded to Dr. BWS Sobral.

About Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
Established in 2000, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is one of seven acclaimed research institutes designed to support Virginia Tech’s research mission. Our emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scales from the microbiome to the entire globe, helping to solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered on the Blacksburg, Virginia campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.

Published by Tiffany Trent, December 02, 2013
Tags: Disease  Education and Outreach  PATRIC  Public Health  Systems Biology