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Computers aid in cracking deception in plants
Date:6/25/2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. If the growing presence of computer 'geeks' on television crime shows is any indicator, computers are increasingly becoming essential tools for detecting and combating skullduggery. However, television detectives are not the only ones taking advantage of these tools. Researchers also are beginning to collaborate with computer scientists to help uncover biological forms of deception, known as molecular mimicry.

"Molecular mimicry is a biological mechanism that a pathogen, such as a bacterium, uses to trick a host organism into accepting it and, in some cases, to alter the host's function to its own benefit," said Dmitry Korkin, assistant professor in the University of Missouri Informatics Institute and Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering. "All this mimicry occurs among proteins."

Korkin recently received a five-year, $613,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to apply his computational research to the study of molecular mimicry in an important plant pathogen, the soybean cyst nematode.

The soybean cyst nematode is a small parasitic roundworm that infects the roots of a soybean plant. As part of its modus operandi, the nematode secretes proteins into the soybean that change the plant's cellular function and causes it to create a specialized cell from which the nematode feeds. Scientists think molecular mimicry may be involved in this host-pathogen interaction, but detecting it experimentally is difficult due to the sheer volume of proteins involved.

By applying concepts of machine learning and pattern recognition, Korkin will narrow the field of potential protein candidates by identifying protein binding sites in the soybean that match with those in the nematode.

"The problem is similar to trying to detect a face in a group of people," Korkin said. "To match the face, you need to know specific features about it: the color of the face, the color of the eyes, th
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Contact: Kelsey Jackson
JacksonKN@missouri.edu
573-882-8353
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert  

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