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Consortium Sequences Genome of Deadly Crop Fungus F. graminearum

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Researchers have sequenced the genome of a fungus that can devastate wheat and barley crops and sicken humans and cattle that ingest grain infected with it, according to a recent paper.
The fungus, Fusarium graminearum, has been known to cause a deadly condition known as Fusarium head blight, and is “one of the most significant plant pathogens worldwide," according to the researchers.
Their paper, which appears in the Sept. 7 Science, mentions that the fungus can also sicken humans and livestock who ingest infected grain.
The scientists sequenced the F. graminearum genome by whole-genome shotgun with paired-end sequencing of plasmid, fosmid, and bacterial artificial chromosome clones.
They found that the genome contains 13,000 genes and 10,500 SNPs, which are distributed in a biased manner with 50 percent found within 13 percent of the sequence.
Using Blast analysis, the researchers identified 704 genes that are specific to this fungus, 408 of which were exclusively expressed during barley infection.
According to a statement accompanying the paper, the researchers said they “found that some regions of the genome are evolving much more rapidly, and that may be how the pathogens avoid detection.”
The team also found “distinct regions of high diversity” within the genome. “We found that these regions are enriched for infection-related genes, which may allow the fungus to adapt rapidly to changing environments or host,” the team wrote in the statement.
“Recognition of these high-diversity areas of the genome focuses the direction of future work toward those regions that may have the greatest potential in elucidating the dynamics of host pathogen interactions,” they added.
The team stressed that it does not known if this trait is specific to F. graminearum “or to all plant pathogens; no other pathogens have been examined in this much detail," they said.
Researchers participating in the study include scientists at the Broad Institute; the Institute for Bioinformatics in Neuherberg, Germany; the University of Minnesota; Cornell University; Michigan State University; the United States Department of Agriculture; and others.

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