NSF PR 02-62 - July 16, 2002
First of Crop Killer's Genome Sequence Available
The first draft sequence of a worldwide crop-killing
fungus genome has been completed under the joint National
Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Agriculture
Microbial Genome Sequencing Project.
The fungus Magnaporthe grisea causes rice
blast disease, which is estimated to destroy annually
enough rice to feed more than 60 million people. The
fungus was recently recognized by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention as a potentially significant
biological weapon that could be used for agricultural
Certain strains of the fungus can attack domesticated
grasses such as barley, wheat, pearl millet, and even
turf grasses. Rice blast disease, once thought to
be confined to only developing nations, has emerged
in the United States over the past decade with the
widespread introduction of rice as a crop in the South.
In the Midwest, golf courses also have been devastated
by the disease's attack on cool season grasses.
Previously, rice blast outbreaks were controlled through
the application of costly and potentially hazardous
chemicals. Genome sequencing will allow scientists
to understand the interactions between the fungus
and grasses, and identify the mechanisms that regulate
infection of a host plant. This knowledge could help
scientists discover new ways to prevent fungal crop
infection and the spread of rice blast disease.
"This is an important first step toward understanding
how this fungus attacks the rice plant," said Patrick
Dennis, NSF's microbial genetics program director.
"The scientific community needs this information to
fill long-standing gaps in our understanding and to
develop new strategies for controlling this destructive
pathogen. This will be a springboard to new discoveries."
The research is continuing at North Carolina State
University and the Whitehead Institute's Center for
Genome Research in Massachusetts.
Note to Editors: To view the rice blast genome sequencing
data, see: http://www-genome.wi.mit.edu/annotation/fungi/magnaporthe/