[DHAKA] Bangladeshi scientists who decoded the genome of the fungus Macrophomina phaseolina are confident that the breakthrough will help tackle an organism that blights valuable crop plants such as jute, rice, cotton, maize and soybean.
Work on sequencing the M. phaseolina genome was described in BMC Genomics, published last month (19 September), by lead scientist Maqsudul Alam and his team members from the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) and the University of Dhaka.
"We can now design rational strategies for plant disease control and develop fungus-resistant crops," Alam, who is also director of advanced studies in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics at the College of Natural Sciences, University of Hawaii, told SciDev.Net.
Genome sequencing helps ready identification of genes responsible for an organism's characteristics, allowing scientists to modify the genes to either reduce or enhance features, according to desirability.
Alam said that M. phaseolina uses a "diverse arsenal of enzymatic and toxin tools to destroy host plants. The M. phaseolina genome lays the foundation to elucidate the specialised mechanism that helps the fungus infect more than 500 plant hosts."
"The overall impact of this fungus on the global agricultural economy is devastating," said Alam pointing to seedling blight, root rot and charcoal rot it causes to many crops and non-crops.
Mohd Kamal Uddin, director-general of BJRI, told SciDev.Net that what was remarkable about the research on M. phaseolina was that it was completed ahead of schedule. "We now need to translate the findings into action."
Alam said there was potential in Bangladesh for similar research in the future. “Bangladesh with its ecology is a Mecca for agro-based research, with benefits for the ‘bottom billion’ in the areas of rice, seasonal fruits and herbs.”
The main aim of research at BJRI was to "deliver to Bangladeshi farmers disease-resistant, stress-tolerant and high-yielding jute varieties," Alam said. M. phaseolina destroys 30 per cent of annual jute crops worth about US$ half-a-billion.
Cracking the M. phaseolina genome was the extension of work on decoding the jute genome that Alam and his team had achieved two years earlier.
Bangladesh, the world’s second largest producer of jute, after India and the largest exporter of the 'golden fibre', has filed for several patents against its jute and fungus genome sequencing work.