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January 17, 1996

Disease Detectives Are Turning to Molecular Techniques to Uncover Emerging Microbes

JAMA. 1996;275(3):176. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530270016007

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ALTHOUGH THE time-honored practice of "shoe-leather epidemiology" has a secure place in investigations of mysterious outbreaks of illness, some recently developed molecular techniques are dramatically expanding the capabilities of infectious disease sleuths and revolutionizing infection control.

Nucleic acid—based techniques are proving valuable not only for identifying emerging pathogens but also for monitoring infections caused by these agents, noted David H. Persing, MD, PhD, at an Institute of Medicine—sponsored meeting. In research reported last year, such techniques enabled Persing, of the Division of Clinical Microbiology and the Molecular Microbiology laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn, and colleagues to recover and determine genetic sequences of protozoal DNA in the blood of four patients. The result: identification of a new babesialike piroplasm that can cause a potentially fatal illness.

In addition to helping epidemiologists finger previously unknown pathogens as the cause of disease outbreaks, such molecular tools can help researchers determine potential