Blacksburg, Va. -- A special issue of BMC Microbiology highlights some of the recent achievements of scientists developing a universal language to describe the genes involved in the complex interplay between microbes and the hosts that they colonize. Eight papers from members of the international Plant-Associated Microbe Gene Ontology (PAMGO) consortium chronicle efforts to expand The Gene Ontology to include a language that gives researchers a shared vocabulary to describe disease-related and beneficial interactions between a microbe and its host. In three years, the PAMGO consortium has created more than 700 terms that represent the myriad of interactions between microbes and their plant and animal hosts.
Trudy Torto-Alalibo, PAMGO Project Coordinator, remarked: "The Gene Ontology resource for more comprehensive cross-kingdom analyses will ultimately increase our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying microbial interactions with their hosts. These advances in knowledge should, in time, enable many applications, including the design of novel disease-limiting strategies."
Microbes have evolved many ingenious ways to live either peacefully with or wreak havoc on their host cells. Some microbes keep their host cells alive; others kill them quickly. Some sophisticated pathogens have even evolved to do both at different times of the infection process. The complexity and scope of these relationships have to be reflected in the Gene Ontology.
Candace Collmer of Wells College, who helped launch PAMGO in 2003, noted: "A crucial step at the beginning of the project was the realization that host pathogenesis is only one possible outcome on a continuum of symbiotic microbial-host interactions ranging from beneficial to detrimental. Since all are types of intimate interactions, and because microbes initiating these different types of interactions have common needs in approaching a host, we initially crafted broad terms for desc
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