Scientists sequence genome of rice-killing fungus

The sequencing of the rice genome this spring represented a major milestone in the search for higher-yield, more disease-resistant rice crops.

Now, another major step has been taken. The genome of one of the world's worst plant blights - rice blast disease, which each year destroys enough rice to feed 60 million people worldwide - has also been sequenced.

The genome of Magnaporthe grisea - the fungus that causes rice blast - is now available online at http://www-genome.wi.mit.edu/annotation/fungi/magnaporthe/. According to Dr. Ralph Dean, professor of plant pathology, director of North Carolina State University's Center for Integrated Fungal Research, and principal investigator of the $1.8 million grant that led to the sequencing of rice blast, it is the first time that the genomic structure of a significant plant pathogen has been made publicly available.

Joint funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Science Foundation Microbial Genome Sequencing Program spearheaded the research. Dean said this project was the only one jointly funded by these two organizations.

"We now have the genome of the most important cereal and the most important pathogen," Dean said. "Having the genome of both rice and rice blast gives us the greatest opportunities to dissect, understand and manage plant disease."

Dean's lab at NC State worked with researchers at the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research in Cambridge, Mass. The sequencing is expected to cover about 95 percent of the genome, Dean says.

Researchers decided to put the data online so other scientists can also work to solve the problems caused by rice blast. When half of the world's population depends on rice for a majority of their caloric intake, finding these solutions faster is imperative, Dean says.

NC State's lab provided the framework for the sequencing, Dean e

Contact: Dr. Ralph Dean
North Carolina State University

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