The emergence of Asian soybean rust in the US has focused concerns over the plentiful supply of raw ingredients, and it is hoped that the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station study into the fungus, Trichoderma virens, which is used to protect field crops from various plant diseases, could lead to better crop protection in the future.
The researchers believe that by sequencing the fungus, they will be able to develop new versions of it to protect field crops from diseases. This would decrease the amount of pesticide and other chemicals applied throughout a growing season.
"You also might be able to more effectively employ sustainable practices such as low till agriculture," said Heather Wilkinson, who is researching the ecological aspects of the fungus. "You've got Trichoderma present to combat the pathogens that remain in the soil when you incorporate low till. In theory, it would be cost-effective for many producers.
"By placing the disease-fighting fungus directly onto the seed, it would continue to protect the plant throughout the growing season and spread throughout the root system."
The emergence of Asian soybean rust in the US has caused consternation in parts of the country. The disease is new to the States, having arrived after soybeans were already harvested in November 2004. The Illinois Soybean Association has said that farmers should review their need for multi-peril crop insurance, which can protect against financial damage.
The ingredients sector has been watching developments closely. Soybeans represent the starting point for a range of food ingredients such as oil, proteins, isoflavones and even milk. Demand for such ingredients has rocketed on the back of consumer demand for health-positioned food products.
The current sequencing project is a collaborative effort between the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, and is in fact one of 40 new genome projects recently announced by the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.
"Through the Community Sequencing Program, we are leveraging the dramatic advances in genomic technology accrued since DOE launched the Human Genome Project nearly 20 years ago," said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, director of the Department of Energy's Office Of Science.
"Our ability to generate DNA sequences, particularly over the last three years, has approached Moore's Law of proportions - in effect doubling every 18 months. These advances have led DOE JGI to emerge as one of the preeminent contributors to microbial and plant genomics."