A new gene-screening technique could speed the search for vaccines against hard-to-fight diseases.

The government's infectious disease chief says "It opens up a new arena" in developing vaccines against multiple strains of diseases.

Scientists made the discovery while hunting a vaccine to protect newborns from a severe childbirth infection. Studies published in today's journal Science suggest it's the first candidate in two decades that might protect against all major strains of Group B strep. There are numerous strains of the germ, and previous attempts at vaccines couldn't offer universal protection.

Using the new technique, instead of labs growing the bacteria in dishes -- a usual step in vaccine creation -- scientists used computers to rapidly identify all the genes in eight major strains of Group B strep.