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Student research team sequences genome of bacterium discovered in Virginia Tech garden
Date:4/21/2010

Under the supervision of a Virginia Tech plant pathologist, a group of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students isolated and characterized a formerly unknown group of bacteria.

The bacteria strain belongs to the plant pathogen species Pseudomonas syringae. One bacterium of this group, strain 642, was isolated at the Hahn Horticulture Garden and is the first bacterium isolated on the Virginia Tech campus to have its genome sequenced.

"I collaborate with John Kowalski's high school students at the Roanoke Valley Governor's School for Science and Technology, undergraduate students from Concord University in West Virginia, and graduate students at Virginia Tech to teach about the role of bacteria in the environment and, in particular, their importance to plants, using a hands-on approach," said Boris Vinatzer, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Found on a wide variety of plants, many strains of P. syringae cause plant diseases such as bacterial blight, spot, speck, stripes, and canker. When springs are wet and cool, P. syringae can severely reduce crop yield and quality. However, P. syringae strain 642 does not cause disease on any tested plant species.

"Because the bacterium we isolated and sequenced is nonpathogenic itself but is very similar to pathogens, we can compare its genome to the genomes of the closely related pathogens and see what mechanisms bacteria use to cause disease and how bacteria evolve to become pathogens," Vinatzer said.

When Vinatzer genetically analyzed this unique group of P. syringae bacteria two years ago, he compared it with other bacteria that had been studied by researchers in the past. He was surprised when he found that the first genetically engineered bacterium ever released into the environment in 1987 belonged to this same group of bacteria. Nearly 30
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Contact: Michael Sutphin
msutphin@vt.edu
540-231-6975
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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