Scientists Crack Genetic Code for Mold
PORTLAND, Ore. - Six Oregon scientists were part of the international effort
to crack the genetic code of a common mold that has served as a laboratory workhorse
for more than half a century.
The complete genetic blueprint of Neurospora crassa, a harmless pinkish-orange
fungus that typically sprouts on bread or bark, will help researchers track
down the cause of fungal and congenital diseases in plants and animals.
"It is going to be extremely useful for understanding the biology of
related fungi that are less well studied," said Matthew Sachs, a molecular
cell biologist at the Oregon Health & Science University's OGI School of
Science and Engineering in Hillsboro.
The blueprint of the 10,000 genes making up the mold was reported last week
in the journal Nature by 77 scientists from 33 institutions. The researchers
included Sachs and five scientists from the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Eric Selker, a UO biology professor who helped in the sequencing project,
said Neurospora is a "stripped down" organism that is ideal for researchers.
"If you want to learn how to build a simple airplane, for example, you'd
probably be better off studying a Cessna than a Concorde jet," Selker said.
The Neurospora fungus often is found growing on the bark of burned trees in
the Northwest. Because it is a simple, fast-growing and safe organism, it has
been a laboratory model for the past 60 years and recently has been used to
study basic biological processes such as circadian rhythms, or "biological
clocks" that govern sleep cycles.
The Neurospora gene sequence was mapped at the Whitehead Institute, part of
the MIT Center for Genome Research in Cambridge, Mass., in collaboration with
the researchers in other parts of the world and $5 million in financing from
the National Science Foundation.
"One of the surprising things about the genome is that some 4,000 genes
are completely new," said James E. Galagan, a computational biologist with
the Whitehead Institute and lead researcher. "So the challenge now is to
find out what these genes are doing."
Galagan said Neurospora is the first filamentous fungus to be sequenced and
has led to plans to map the genes of other fungi, including some which cause
diseases in plants and animals, including humans.
"Neurospora is taking us one step closer to understanding these organisms
and therefore getting a handle on being able to combat pathogens," Galagan
In 1941, Edward Tatum and George Beadle of Stanford University used Neurospora
to discover that genes make an enzyme to carry out the chemical reactions that
make life possible. Their discovery won them a Nobel Prize in 1958.
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