NSF PR 00-64 - September 26, 2000
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Whitehead Institute Receives National Science Foundation
Grant to Sequence Neurospora
The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in
Cambridge,Massachusetts, has received a two-year,
$5.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation
(NSF) to sequence the genome of the common laboratory
fungus Neurospora crassa and to deposit the information
in public databases.
"The National Science Foundation is delighted to support
the complete sequencing of the genome of Neurospora
crassa," says Rita Colwell, director of NSF. "This
will be the first complete sequence of a filamentous
fungus available in the public domain. It will be
of extraordinary value not only because of the widespread
use of this organism as a model in biological research,
but also because of the boost it will give to research
on a wide range of related organisms of scientific
and economic importance."
Adds Mary Clutter, assistant director of NSF for biological
sciences,"Fungi include over 250,000 different species,
with members central to every ecosystem on the planet.
As a group they are economically important,being used
both for the production of foodstuffs and for industrial
production of enzymes and chemicals. Knowing the complete
sequence of the genome of a model filamentous fungus
will provide the key to understanding the biology
of a broad range of fungi and will contribute to understanding
the biology of many other organisms."
The Whitehead researchers, with collaborators at the
Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology,
the University of Kentucky and the Fungal Genetics
Stock Center at the University of Kansas, will also
initiate the annotation of the sequence, and the identification
of genes and other important features of the genome,
as well as develop tools to display the information
in ways that will be useful to researchers. The Neurospora
genome consists of 43 million base pairs, or DNA letters.
"As the largest contributor to the human genome project,
the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research
is uniquely poised to take on this task," says Eric
Lander, director of the center. "We hope to apply
the genomic tools we've developed to sequence the
human genome to rapidly decipher the sequence of Neurospora."
Like the fruit fly, Neurospora has long served as a
powerful laboratory model to study genetics and biological
mechanisms. In fact, it was with Neurospora that scientists
first demonstrated the concept that one gene makes
one corresponding protein. The ease of growth and
the extensive genetic tools available for Neurospora
make it a convenient system for the study of many
processes found in higher organisms. It is the most
intensively investigated member of the filamentous
fungi, a group of organisms that are more complex
than yeasts and that are of profound significance
to human health and welfare.
"As a result, sequencing the Neurospora genome is an
important goal for biomedical research," says Bruce
Birren, assistant director of the Whitehead Institute
sequencing center and leader of this project. "Just
as the genome sequences of the yeast, worm, fruit
fly, and the human have helped accelerate biomedical
research, sequencing this fungus will provide many
new insights into life's processes.
"Many labs around the world are eager to exploit this
sequence information and carry out exciting biology,
but they lack the resources and expertise needed to
efficiently sequence the genome. Making the Neurospora
genome sequence available in the public databases
and developing new approaches to analysis of the sequence
will accelerate research in many areas," says Birren.
Another important outcome of Neurospora sequencing
will be Its contribution to the growing field of comparative
genomics. Because many important genes are conserved
among species, finding genes in one organism will
help shed light on analogous genes in other organisms
(including humans). Comparing the DNA sequences of
various organisms will also help researchers understand
the key genes and genetic mechanisms that have been
conserved throughout evolution.