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Novel approach used to sequence a fungus key to mountain pine beetle infestation


Vancouver, BC – Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University and the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre have developed a new way to compile draft genome sequences that could advance the fight against mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation and improve cancer research.

There are currently several ways to sequence the genome of living organisms, each with advantages and shortcomings. Dr Steven Jones and his colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre have combined cutting edge hardware with novel software to compile genome sequences at a fraction of the cost of previous methods. The method is published in the current issue of the journal Genome Biology (www.genomebiology.com under “De novo sequence assembly”).

Using this new tool, the research team led by Dr Jones and UBC’s Colette Breuil, Richard Hamelin and Joerg Bohlmann has compiled the first complete genome sequence of a fungus (Grosmannia clavigera) that is key to the mountain pine beetle infestation process.

“The ability to combine molecular biology techniques and computational approaches in this way really helps establish British Columbia as one of the leading jurisdictions in genome science,” said Dr Jones, senior author, head of bioinfomatics, BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre.

“The key to better preparedness for future forest health crises such as the current mountain pine beetle epidemic, which has affected 10 to 14 million hectares of pine forests in BC, lies in better understanding of the three main players – the trees, the bark beetles and a fungus – and their complex interactions,” said Joerg Bohlmann, distinguished university scholar and professor at UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories. “We can’t fight an enemy if we don’t know what it’s made of. The complete genome of the fungus brings us one step closer to winning the battle.”

By triggering and overwhelming the trees’ defence mechanism, the fungus weakens the trees and creates an ideal environment for beetles to nest. It also stains the wood blue in the process, making the MPB-affected wood less marketable.

“This study has much wider research implications. What we learned from assembling the draft sequence of a fungus, we can now apply to sequencing human genomes,” explained Dr Jones. “We are now using this novel approach to decode cancer tumours.”

The research was partially funded by Genome BC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, the Natural Resources Canada Genomics program, and the BC Cancer Foundation.