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Since it became available as a routine tool in biology, the determination and analysis of nucleotide sequences has been applied to the design of vaccines and the investigation of their effectiveness. As vaccination is primarily concerned with the interaction of biological molecules with the immune system, the utility of sequence data is not immediately obvious and, indeed, nucleotide sequence data are most effective when used to complement more conventional immunological approaches. Here, the impact of sequencing on the field of vaccinology will be illustrated with reference to the development and implementation of vaccines against Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) over the 30-year period from the late-1980s to the late-2010s. Nucleotide sequence-based studies have been important in the fight against this aggressive pathogen largely because of its high genetic and antigenic diversity, properties that were only fully appreciated because of sequence-based studies. Five aspects will be considered, the use of sequence data to: (i) discover vaccine antigens; (ii) assess the diversity and distribution of vaccine antigens; (iii) determine the evolutionary and population biology of the organism and their implications for immunization; and (iv) develop molecular approaches to investigate pre- and post-vaccine pathogen populations to assess vaccine impact. One of the great advantages of nucleotide sequence data has been its scalability, which has meant that increasingly large data sets have been available, which has proved invaluable in the investigation of an organism as diverse and enigmatic as the meningococcus.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Immunol

Publication Date





Neisseria meningitidis, conjugate polysaccharide vaccines, efficacy, herd immunity, outer membrane vesicle vaccines, population biology, Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Antigenic Variation, Antigens, Bacterial, Biological Evolution, Humans, Meningococcal Infections, Meningococcal Vaccines, Models, Molecular, Neisseria meningitidis, Polysaccharides, Bacterial, Protein Conformation, Sequence Analysis, Structure-Activity Relationship, Vaccines, Conjugate