NSF PR 02-85 - October 16, 2002
National Science Foundation, USDA to Fund Mapping
of Plant-Devouring Mold Genome
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department
of Agriculture (USDA) have jointly awarded $2.3 million
to the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia
Tech to sequence the genomes of two species of Phytophthora,
a plant pathogen whose name means "plant devourer."
Phytophthora species and their relatives,
called oomycetes or "water molds," are fungus-like
organisms that are close cousins of kelp and diatoms.
The two species of the pathogen to be analyzed are
P. sojae and P. ramorum. The pathogen
has attacked a number of plants worldwide, including
soybean, cacao, potato, and forest trees. P. sojae
alone is estimated to have already destroyed more
than $1 billion in soybean crops worldwide. P.
ramorum is responsible for a disease called "Sudden
Oak Death syndrome" that is killing California oak,
redwood and Douglas fir forests and is a threat to
coastal forest ecosystems. East coast red and pin
oak forests are threatened as well.
"This pathogen is very similar to fungi, but is unaffected
by most fungicides," said NSF's Microbial Program
Director Patrick Dennis. "The successful mapping of
the genome will go a long way toward identifying new
strategies to control the pest and to reduce the devastation
that would certainly result if it were allowed to
Dr. Brett Tyler, a molecular biologist, will lead the
research. "Phytophthora pathogens are literally
destroyers from a distant kingdom," said Tyler. "The
genome sequences of these two species will for the
first time enable us to identify and target their
vulnerabilities in order to control them."
Note to Editors: The following are related Web sites:
Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, http://www.vbi.vt.edu
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