As the name implies, whole-genome sequencing (WGS) captures the complete DNA sequence of the bacterium. The bacterium’s WGS can provide the clinician and public health scientist with information that previously would have required performing multiple complex laboratory tests. For instance, during the investigation of an outbreak of a disease causing bacteria, a DNA fingerprint, that is highly specific to the bacterium and its progeny, can aid in detecting the outbreak source. The WGS can also provide other information about the bacterium, such as if it is resistant to antibiotic drugs, it’s pathogenicity, and infer it's serotype. This information can then be used by the physician to guide treatment of the patient. As this new tool holds great promise for the future of bacterial testing, the CDC, FDA, and State public health laboratory partners, such as the Wadsworth Center, are investing substantial resources to implement this technology with the goal of improving public health.
The development of small affordable machines that can sequence a bacterium’s whole genome in a few hours at a reasonable cost has ushered in a new era for diagnostic bacteriology. Instruments like the one shown above are about the size of a microwave oven. The DNA sequence shown above was produced on this machine.