Cumc, Columbia School Of Engineering Researchers Have Deciphered Genome Of Legionella Pneumophila, The Bacteria Responsible For Legionnairesï¾’ Disease

September 28, 2004

New York, NY, September 28, 2004 -Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and School of Engineering have completed the sequencing and analysis of the genome of Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ disease. The discoveries, published in the September 24, 2004 issue of Science, were made using the whole genome approach for studying pathogens, and may lead to the development of new therapies and vaccines for the treatment of Legionnaires’ disease.

L. pneumophila was first recognized as a human pathogen after an outbreak of fatal pneumonia at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in the 1970s. The bacterium, which is found within biofilms as well as fresh and industrial water systems, is able to survive in difficult environments (for example, plumbing systems treated with potent biocides). In addition, it has the ability to misdirect the organelle trafficking systems of host cells. Infection with Legionella pneumophila can be deadly, especially in the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. As such, it is regarded as a major environmental hazard. Much has been learned in recent years about the properties of Legionella, which has been associated with several large outbreaks in Europe and elsewhere since 1976, and has been shown to be a frequent cause of hospital-acquired pneumonias, but a true understanding of its life cycle and pathogenesis has awaited the delineation of its complete gene repertoire. Spearheaded by Drs. Jim Russo, associate head of the DNA Sequencing and Chemical Biology Laboratory at the Columbia Genome Center, Howard Shuman, professor of microbiology, and Jingyue Ju, associate professor of chemical engineering and head of the DNA Sequencing and Chemical Biology Laboratory, a large team of scientists and graduate students from the Columbia University Medical Center and School of Engineering joined forces to determine the complete genome sequence of L. pneumophila. The analysis of the 3.4 million base pair long genome led to the discovery of genes for unexpected metabolic pathways, new candidate virulence determinants, selective expansions of certain gene families, and a stretch of DNA that can exist in chromosomal and episomal forms. The vast body of information provided by the Legionella genome sequence, including the identification of new candidate virulence and other important life cycle genes, highlights the unique value of the whole genome approach in studying biology on a global scale. Thus far, this is the largest genome sequencing project carried out at Columbia University. The Columbia Genome Center, consisting of an interdisciplinary group of scientists, has established a state-of-the-art platform for genomics and medical genetics studies, which will further facilitate new discoveries in biomedical science and engineering. For more information, visit: (Columbia Genome Center website) (copy of paper, Science website) (Legionella Genome Project website) ###

*Located in New York City, Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic and clinical research, medical education, and health care. The medical center includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, and other health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the School of Dental & Oral Surgery, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. The pioneering tradition of Columbia University health scientists, who have achieved some of the 20th century's most significant medical breakthroughs, continues today.


American Legion, Columbia University, Europe, Jim Russo