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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Biology faculty get first look at new genome sequence

Morris and Vivaporn
Drs. Paul Morris (left) and Vipa Phuntumart view the issue of Science in which their latest article appears.

Biology faculty Drs. Paul Morris and Vipaporn Phuntumart have once again been featured in a leading national science journal for their work with plant pathogens that might have implications for treatment of human disease.

The two were part of a cohort of 53 scientists who collaborated on a manuscript defining highlights of the genome sequence of Hyaloperonspora Arabidopsis (Ha), an obligate pathogen of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small, flowering plant. The article was published in the Dec. 10 issue of the journal Science. Obligate pathogens are those that can only be maintained by growing on their live hosts.

The Science issue also included genomic analyses of three more fungal obligate pathogens of plants. An international group of colleagues coordinated the sequence analysis of Ha.

"It is always exciting to be part of the team that gets the first look at a newly sequenced genome," Morris said. "We entered this project hoping that our analyses would give us some understanding of what kind of genes were lost in this genome that would force the organism to adopt an obligate pathogen lifestyle. We were able to do this, but the real surprise, reported in Science, is that other obligate plant pathogens have independently lost some of the same genes."

"Our research focuses on functional analysis of ABC transporters, the proteins that in humans were first identified as causing drug resistance in cancer cells," Phuntumart explained. "The conservation of ABC transporters genes across these oomycete genomes has made it possible for us to identify the specific genes that protect the pathogen from plant toxins or pesticides."

This project represents the fifth genome project and the fourth manuscript on oomycete genomes to which Morris and Phuntumart have made contributions. Previous manuscripts were published in Science, Nature and Genome Research.

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December 16, 2010