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NSF PR 01-101 - December 13, 2001
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Agrobacterium Genome Sequence is Complete
Public/private teamwork yields quick, significant
results on A. tumefaciens
A larger version
The Agrobacterium tumefaciens microbe
adhering to plant cells. The bacterium's
method of transferring DNA to plants has
broad implications for bio-engineering.
version is here.
Photo credit: Martha Hawes,
University of Arizona
A combined public and private team of microbiologists
has completed sequencing the genome of the plant pathogen
Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This bacterium has
become an essential tool for plant research and biotechnology,
and researchers continue to seek ways of harnessing
its infectious processes to bio-engineer plants for
The journal Science in its issue of December
14 features the A. tumefaciens milestone in
a cover story on agrobacterium research. A. tumefaciens
also serves as a practical model for research into
other pathogens that affect both plants and animals.
With principal support from the National Science Foundation
(NSF), researchers at the University of Washington
(UW) partnered with the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company
to sequence the genome. Other collaborators include
researchers from The Institute for Genomic Research,
SRI International and the University of Campinas in
Brazil. The resulting data will be available publicly
for use by other scientists.
Scientists use A. tumefaciens to generate transgenic
plants in both academic and industrial settings. Having
access to the genome sequences should help researchers
improve the efficiency of this tool and broaden the
host range to which segments of transgenic DNA (called
T-DNA) segments can be effectively transferred.
"Knowledge gleaned from the genome sequence of A.
tumefaciens could be key to understanding the
evolution of plant-microbe relationships," said UW
microbiologist Derek Wood, lead author of the Science
article. "This agrobacterium and its cousin, Sinorhizobium
meliloti, will let us study the separation of
closely related organisms into divergent pathogenic
and symbiotic lifestyles. A. tumefaciens is
a natural genetic engineer that transfers selected
genes into plant cells during the disease process,
causing plants to synthesize compounds useful to the
bacterium. We can tailor that same process to introduce
One indication of the importance attached to A.
tumefaciens is that the DuPont company had completed
a "rough draft" of the sequence for proprietary purposes.
Maryanna Henkart, director of the NSF Division of
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, said that the
university researchers' cooperation with DuPont was
important to avoid duplication of effort.
"Broad access to genome data is key to so much progress
in science," said Henkart. "A major issue in genomics
is how the public and private sectors can collaborate,
with mutual benefit. NSF is pleased to have sponsored
a part of this innovative arrangement."
Eugene Nester, a UW professor of microbiology and long-time
leader in A. tumefaciens research, originated
the agreement with DuPont. The company promised to
make its data public if NSF funded sequencing of the
remaining genome portions. That effort took less than
one year following an NSF award in late 2000 to UW
Genome Center director Maynard Olson.
"This is the only case in nature where DNA and proteins
from bacteria are transferred into plants or animals,"
said Nester. "At one time, many scientists said it
couldn't be done. But in fact, normal tobacco plants
contain the A. tumefaciens DNA."