"We still can't cure the common cold", the rallying cry of anyone trying to belittle progress. You'll notice that these people don't live in caves, walk to work, die of smallpox or eat anything they caught themselves, but it makes them feel better to complain. And it makes us feel better to know they may soon be wrong, as a team of genetics researchers target the entire common cold genome.
One reason it's so hard to cure the common cold isn't the scientist's fault - it's the non-scientists who insist on calling it "common". There is no single virus causing the sickness, rather a family of thousands of mutating rhinoviruses evolved from at least fifteen separate ancestor strains. The little buggers can mutate hundreds of times to avoid detection by the immune system, are known to skip steps that other infections need, and can even recombine whole sections of genome when more than one cold strain infects the same unlucky person.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are taking a bigger-picture approach to the problem - instead of targeting tiny parts of some strains, which the cold can just evolve out of, they're mapping a huge number of entire genomes. They've already added ninety new genome sequences to the recorded data, as well as brand new insights about the rhinovirus mutation system. The plan is that this data should highlight hot-spots of mutation and, more importantly, vital RNA sections which resist such changes and can then be targeted with a mix of anti-viral drugs.
So the next time you're struck low with sniffles, keep warm with this thought: millions of dollars in genomics technology is targeting your passengers for destruction.
Posted by Luke McKinney.