Virginia Bioinformatics Institute to decode plant devourer genomes

Blacksburg, Va. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have jointly awarded $2.3 million to Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) researchers at Virginia Tech. Combined with $1.5 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, these funds will enable sequencing of the genomes of two species of Phytophthora, a plant pathogen whose name means "plant devourer." Attacking a vast number of plants including soybean, cacao, potatoes, and forest trees, Phytophthora costs agriculture, forestry and nursery industries hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Phytophthora species and their relatives, called oomycetes or "water molds," are fungus-like organisms that are close cousins of kelp and diatoms. This joint award will enable VBI's Brett Tyler and his collaborators to sequence the genomes of two Phytophthora species. One of the two species to be sequenced, P. sojae, causes over a billion dollars of losses to the worldwide soybean crop. P. sojae was chosen for this project because researchers have been studying its genetics for many years, and because it has a relatively compact genome. The other species to be sequenced, P. ramorum,, is responsible for a disease called Sudden Oak Death Syndrome that is destroying California's coast oak ecosystems. It also threatens redwood and Douglas fir forests on the West coast, and red and pin oak forests in the East.

Tyler's research group will provide a genetic map of the P. sojae genome that will be used to assemble the raw DNA sequence data to be produced at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI). The VBI team will then create a Web-based bioinformatics annotation system that will enable Phytophthora experts from around the world to log in and interpret the DNA sequence. The annotation system will be adapted from a software program called ASAP developed at the University of Wisconsin by Nicole Perna. ASAP will also enable the sequence from

Contact: Neysa Call
Virginia Tech

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