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The draft genome sequence of a fungus that destroys enough rice to feed 60 million people each year has been released by an international team of scientists.

Rice blast disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe grisea, is responsible for up to 30 per cent of rice crop losses annually in East Asia and South America.

The disease has traditionally been controlled with expensive, and potentially hazardous fungicides. Now that its genome has been sequenced, scientists are hopeful that new, more effective ways to tackle the disease — for example by disabling the fungus’ ability to infect plants — will be within reach.

“We believe that the key to developing effective and durable resistance is through a comprehensive understanding of host-pathogen interaction,” says Ralph Dean, the principal investigator. “That in turn means having the genome sequence of both the host, the rice, and the pathogen, the rice blast fungus.”

The researchers — at the MIT’s Whitehead Instiute for Biomedical Research and member institutes of the International Rice Blast Genome Consortium — have released the rice blast genome on a public website, just months after the rice genome sequence was published (see Scientists crack rice code, 5 April 2002).

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