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Easing the global burden of diarrhoeal disease: can synthetic biology help?


The Millennium Declaration committed the 193 member states of the United Nations to end poverty by 2015. Despite the efforts of the UN and World Health Organisation, and the G8 commitment to spend a fixed proportion of gross national income on overseas aid, more than 2.6 billion people still lack access to proper sanitation. The absence of effective public health strategies in developing countries results in significant health burdens following gastrointestinal infections. Diarrhoea associated with infections resulting from oral-faecal contamination is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, primarily in Africa and South Asia. Currently there are no appropriate vaccines that could be easily administered on a global scale to prevent these infections. Synthetic biology has the potential to contribute to development of such vaccines. Our work is directed at developing a range of multivalent oral vaccines against the most common diarrhoea-causing bacteria, e.g., Escherichia coli, Shigella and Salmonella. If synthetic biology is to avoid the suspicion and possible revulsion of the public, scientists need to demonstrate that this new field has something real to offer.

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We are grateful to Conor Douglas and Dirk Stemerding for organizing the SYBHEL workshop on Synthetic Biology and Global Health. PV is supported by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant awarded to GWB.

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Correspondence to Garry W. Blakely.

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Vohra, P., Blakely, G.W. Easing the global burden of diarrhoeal disease: can synthetic biology help?. Syst Synth Biol 7, 73–78 (2013).

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  • Global health
  • Diarrhoeal disease
  • Synthetic biology
  • Vaccines