Whitehead Completes, Posts Rice Fungus Genome

A team of US scientists has completed and made publicly available a draft genomic sequence of the crop-killing fungus Magnaporthe grisea, the National Science Foundation said today. Ralph Dean, a professor at North Carolina State University, led the research effort, which was conducted at the Whitehead Institute and relied on an Arachne platform. The research was paid for by a $1.7 million in grant from the NSF and the US Department of Agriculture's Microbial Genome Sequencing Project, according to Patrick Dennis, an NSF officer who administered the grant. The researchers have completed a 6X coverage of the organism, but so far only the first 3X coverage is available on Whitehead's web site. "What's available now is just the first step, but at least the scientific community can begin using it and there's a lot of very useful info" said Dennis. At this point, the team is working to refine and verify their assemblies. "They have almost everything they need to close the gaps," added Dennis. Thomas Mitchell, a senior research scientist who works with Dean, said a lack of funds is behind the delay. "We don't have funding to complete the whole genome yet," he said. "We will seek funding as soon as we can do the final version." It was not yet determined whether NSF and USDA plan to fund the remainder of the project. "We were somewhat restricted in the amount of money we could give them last year, and I think we would be inclined to" pay for the next round, Mitchell told GenomeWeb. Magnaporthe grisea is responsible for rice blast disease, which is estimated to destroy annually enough rice to feed more than 60 million people. The fungus has also been recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a potentially significant biological weapon that could be used for agricultural terrorism. As GenomeWeb reported last summer, Agilent Technologies had developed a microarray for Magnaporthe grisea for Paradigm Genetics. The chip comprises a host of Magnaporthe gene sequences and positive and negative control to help in their data analysis, Paradigm said at the time: