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A toast to bread mould genome

06-May-2003

The pursuit of genome sequencing continues with the news this week that scientists from seven nations have revealed the genome sequence of the bread mould Neurospora crassa.

Following in the foot steps of nobel prize winners George W. Beadle and Edward L. Tatum, awarded for their work on Neurospora, 77 researchers found that Neurospora has around 10,000 genes - about double that found in bacteria - compared to some 14,000 in fruitflies and 21,000-39,0000 in humans. Meaning, and somewhat humbling, that humans are not that far in genetic complexity from the common bread mould.

"This first decoding of the Neurospora genome constitutes a breakthrough in the deeper understanding of the genetic base of this representative of the fungal kingdom. There are consequences as well for other life forms, including that of man," said Prof. Yarden, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, heavily involved in the study.

The achievement, reported in the current issue of Nature magazine, continues the work of Beadle and Tatum which won a Nobel Prize, who demonstrated for the first time that specific genes, as units of heredity, also encode the specific proteins that carry out much of the work of the cell.

According to the researchers, many of the basic cell processes of fungi are identical to those which take place in animals and humans, a fact which makes it possible to advance research in those life forms.

It is known that there is a significant number of genes in Neurospora which correspond to human genes. "The ease and speed with which we can conduct experimental work with this fungus will spur research on other genetic frameworks, leading to progress in developing future genetic-based medical treatment," added Prof. Yarden.

A point of interest revealed by the scientists is that some 40 per cent of the genes in the Neurospora fungus do not have equivalence in any other organisms. It is possible that future research regarding these genes could lead to development of anti-fungal materials with applications in agriculture and elsewhere, said Prof. Yarden. Genetic engineering techniques could be applied to specific genes, for example, in order to yield improved or new natural materials which could be used in antibiotic medications.

According to Prof. Yarden, there are more than a million types of fungi, found everywhere that life exists. There are those which cause diseases in humans, animals and plants as well as those which are poisonous and which can even be used to create biological weapons. On the other hand, there are many 'positive' fungi as well, including those used in creating antibiotics. And there are fungi which function as 'factories' for the creation of proteins used in industry, such as in laundry soaps and food products.

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