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Initial Release of Draft Sequence of the Fusarium Graminearum Genome Announced

Marti Asner (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, July 08, 2003—Agriculture Department officials announced today the release of the 10X draft genome sequence of Fusarium graminearum, the microorganism that causes head blight (scab) in both wheat and barley. Wheat scab epidemics in the 1990s resulted in more than $3 billion in losses to U.S. farmers devastating farm communities in the upper Midwest and elsewhere. Now, the disease is also threatening the world's food supply due to recent outbreaks of head blight in Asia, Europe, Canada and South America.

“This research, funded by USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service’s (CSREES) National Research Initiative (NRI) is critical to controlling and eliminating a grain production problem as well as ultimately a food safety concern,” said Colien Hefferan, CSREES Administrator. “This microorganism and its impact on U.S. and world agriculture, as well as animal and human health must be mapped for better understanding and control.”

Researchers at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Center for Genome Research, in partnership with the International Gibberella zeae Genomics Consortium, released the 10X draft of the genome sequence of this fungal plant pathogen. The genome sequence is a roadmap that can be used by scientists to better understand a microorganism. The availability of the sequence will greatly increase the odds that control measures can be developed, preventing the large-scale losses that have been caused by this pathogen in the past.

As a food safety issue, vomitoxins produced by the fungus pose a serious hazard to human and animal health by inhibiting cellular protein production. Vomitoxin causes weight loss and feeding refusal in non-ruminant livestock. Human ingestion of grain contaminated with F. graminearum has been associated with illness characterized by nausea, vomiting, anorexia and convulsions with possible long-term effects on resistance to infectious disease by altering immune response.

“CSREES’s NRI is proud to support basic research projects, such as the sequencing of the F. graminearum genome, which are the basis for improved control of pathogens that threaten agricultural security and plant productivity, as well as animal and human health, “ added Hefferan.

Click here for more information about Fusarium graminearum and this project.