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Profile: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR)
The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Claire Fraser-Liggett. [Source: University of Maryland]In late 2001, the FBI decides to try to decode the entire DNA sequence of the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for its anthrax attacks investigation. There are about five million units in the genome. The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a leader in decoding microbe genomes, is given this task. TIGR director Claire Fraser-Liggett forms a small team of scientists. By early 2002, this TIGR team completes the genome. Then they compare the anthrax used in the letter sent to the Sun tabloid to a sample of the same strain, the Ames strain, maintained at Porton Down, the British biological weapons facility. The team finds several differences between the samples, raising the possibility that they could learn exactly which laboratory the anthrax used in the attacks came from. The team then looks at the original Ames strain, taken from a dead cow in Texas in 1981, to attempt to see how the anthrax in the letter evolved from the original. By late 2002, this task is finished but investigators are disappointed to learn that there are almost no noticeable differences between the original Ames strain and the anthrax used in the attacks. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]
Jacques Ravel. [Source: New York Times / Brendan Smialowsk]In 2002, scientists mapped the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for the anthrax attacks investigation. Initially, the results are disappointing because the anthrax used in the letters, which is from the Ames strain, do not seem to differ in any way from the original Ames strain used in many laboratories (see Early-Late 2002). But around early 2003, an unnamed US Army microbiologist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, makes a breakthrough. He discovers a morph (also known as a morphotype) that allows scientists to detect differences between the genetic structure of the anthrax used in the attacks and other anthrax. Jacques Ravel, a leading member of the scientific team at the The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) that is decoding the anthrax genome, is asked to decode more morphs. After two years, the team is able to decode a total of eight morphs. The head of TIGR will later comment that it was not clear why the FBI did not ask other laboratories to share the task and speed up the process. Other scientists working with the FBI select four of the morphs as having the most reliable unique genetic differences, known as indels. All of the anthrax letters used anthrax containing these four indels. The FBI finally has a unique signature for the anthrax used in the attacks and starts looking for laboratories that have used an exact match. [New York Times, 8/20/2008] Apparently, by early 2004 scientists already know enough to notice a discrepancy with a sample scientist Bruce Ivins has submitted to the investigation, and the FBI raids Ivins’s lab in July 2004 to seize more samples from him (see Early 2004 and July 16, 2004).
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