Predicting dangerous hospital epidemics by using maths

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  • Author: Statistics Views (source: University of Oslo)
  • Date: 26 August 2016
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Getty Images

In order to reveal the secrets of the bacteria, statisticians at the Norwegian Innovation Centre at University of Oslo are now developing entirely new mathematical methods for describing the evolution of bacteria, how genomes change over time, and what affects these genes.

thumbnail image: Predicting dangerous hospital epidemics by using maths

There are a number of deadly hospital bacteria in the world, the best known is a type of Staphylococcus aureus called MRSA. This feared bacterium kills 25,000 Europeans each year and is multi-antibiotic-resistant which makes it very difficult to eradicate. And MRSA is not the only one.

Since the 1990s, certain Enterococci have also caused a series of severe epidemics at many hospitals all over the world. Like other nasty bacteria, they may circulate from the intestines via the blood and infect the heart valves. Both MRSA and Enterococci have the feared ability to warn others of their kind by transferring genes to them when they are subjected to antibiotics attack. This is called horizontal gene transfer, and makes hospital bacteria even more difficult to gain control of.

In order to reveal the secrets of the bacteria, statisticians at Oslo University's new innovation centre, Big Insight, are now developing entirely new mathematical methods for describing the evolution of bacteria, how genomes change over time, and what affects these genes.


A single bacterial genome consists typically of several million building blocks. The individual building blocks may be one of four compounds: adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine, popularly called A, T, G and C. The order in which they are assembled is the actual recipe for the genome. Scientists have to check the genes of thousands of bacteria in order to understand what the individual genes do and how the population evolves. This also means that the dataset quickly becomes so enormous that it is not possible to interpret by means of ordinary computing operations.

The Norwegian Innovation Centre was started two years ago, by Professor Arnoldo Frigessi, with especially this purpose, crunching enormous amounts of data using completely new statistical methods.

'We are going to use mathematical models and statistical methods to understand why and how lethal, drug-resistant hospital bacteria arise and spread', says Professor Jukka Corander. Studying the entire genomes of bacteria has now thrown open entirely new possibilities for revealing their secrets. It is this genetic knowledge that scientists use to understand bacterial epidemics.

To read the full article please follow the link: New maths to predict dangerous hospital epidemics

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