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A new ONSA conquest

Bioinformation technology team from São Paulo the contended Agrobacterium genome

Two independent groups, one of them with the participation of researchers of the bioinformation technology team of the ONSA network, created by FAPESP, have announced the conclusion of the sequencing of the genome of one of the bacterium most widely used in genetic engineering, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which shows natural mechanisms for the transfer of genes to plants, in which they cause the sickness called crown gall disease. It is believed that knowledge about this genome will facilitate the research of transgenic vegetables.

One of the teams, formed by Du Pont and the University of Washington, both from the United States, with the participation of researchers at the Bioinformation Technology Laboratory (LBI) of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), on the 14th of August, placed information about this genome on their Internet page: www.agrobacterium.org, one of the results due to the financing of US$ 900,000.00 by the National Science Foundation and of R$ 91,148.68 from FAPESP in the form of post-doctorate scholarships for students abroad. The LBI set up the data banks of the genome, and in the annotation (interpretation) phase used programs developed by the laboratory itself.

On the same day, Monsanto, which had the collaboration of researchers from the University of Richmond, announced the deposit of sequences in the GenBank, an international bank of genomes. The two teams are now rushing to publish one before the other the scientific paper with the discoveries, which will show pioneerism in the work. The genome of Agrobacterium has 5.6 million pairs of bases, with two chromosomes and two smaller sequences, the plasmids. “One of the chromosomes is linear and the other is circular, something quite rare among bacteria”, comments João Carlos Setubal, one of the coordinators at the LBI, who will remain until December as a visiting professor at the University of Washington.

Preliminary analysis indicates accentuated genetic similarities between Agrobacterium and two non-pathogenic bacteria, Sinorhizobium meliloti and Mesorhizobium loti, which live inside of plants. “The collaboration with the University of Washington, via Dr. Setubal was perfect”, says João Paulo Kitajima, also a coordinator at the LBI.A worldwide pestilence, Agrobacterium attacks vines, tomato plants, rosebushes, peach trees, and persimmon trees, among others. After transferring its genes to the plant genome, the vegetal cells grow disorderly and tumors are formed, normally on the corona (junction of the trunk with the root) or on the root itself. The nutrients go to these regions and the plants shrivel up and die.

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