College scientist leads team in sequencing genome of rice fungus
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College scientist leads team in
sequencing genome of rice fungus

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

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

Dr. Ralph Dean, professor of plant pathology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of N.C. State University’s Center for Integrated Fungal Research, is the principal investigator of the $1.8 million grant that led to the sequencing of rice blast. He said that it is the first time the genomic structure of a significant plant pathogen has been made publicly available.

“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.”

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 organizations.

Dean’s lab at N.C. 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 said.

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

Dean already has $5.9 million in funding over four years from the NSF to use functional genomics to put the sequencing information for both rice and blast to good use.

—from NCSU News Services


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