Innovative Database Developed For The Study Of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

October 22, 1998

A database designed to accelerate research on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is now "on line." The STDGEN Relational Database ( is a collaborative effort between the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The specialized database organizes genetic information about a variety of STD-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa. The database "translates" the DNA sequences into the gene-product (protein) sequences and then organizes these into logical groups: for example, outer membrane proteins (likely candidates for vaccines or diagnostic tests) or components of a biochemical pathway (likely targets for antibiotics).

"This database will help us reap the benefits of our investment in microbial genomics," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "Investigators can access the information and use it creatively to develop tools such as vaccines, microbicides or therapeutics to prevent and control STDs."

Gerald Myers, Ph.D., a laboratory fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Albuquerque and team leader for the STDGEN Relational Database, began organizing the project earlier this year. Currently, the database includes the recently sequenced genomes of three bacteria: Chlamydia trachomatis (chlamydial infection), Treponema pallidum (syphilis) and Mycoplasma genitalium (urethritis). Within the next year, the genomic sequences of Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea) and Ureaplasma urealyticum (adverse outcomes of pregnancy) will likely be added. "We will also convert the existing human papillomavirus (HPV) database into the relational database format," explains Dr. Myers. He pioneered the HIV Sequence Database in 1986 and the HPV Sequence Database in 1994.

"One important aspect of the STDGEN database," Dr. Myers notes, "is that it is dynamic – investigators can give us feedback and new information, and we can update the database immediately." An advisory group composed of experts in STDs, genome sequencing and informatics works with Dr. Myers and his team at Los Alamos to ensure the quality of the database.

"From a biological perspective, the purpose of the database is twofold," says Penelope J. Hitchcock, D.V.M., chief of NIAID's STD branch and project officer for the database. "First, it enables us to probe the common molecular mechanisms that organisms use to cause disease in the human reproductive tract. Second, we can study how one infection influences another, for instance, gonorrhea and HIV infection."

The STDGEN Relational Database will receive an estimated $500,000 in funding from NIAID during fiscal year 1998 under an interagency agreement to the Department of Energy.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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