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Brazilian scientists have sequenced the genome of a bacterium that causes severe damage to vineyards in the United States. Their findings could help control a pest that has cost the Californian wine industry more than US$40 million to date.

The bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, causes Pierce's disease in grapevines. It grows in the gut of small winged insects, which then spread the disease when they feed off plants.

"To restrict the development of a plant pathogen you need to know how the disease is established," says Marie-Anne Van Sluys at the University of Sao Paulo, who led the research. "The genetic sequence of Xylella may help us attack this pathogen without harming other bacteria that plants need to survive."

Two years ago, a group of Brazilian researchers became the first in the world to sequence a bacterial plant pathogen, a strain of Xylella that affects citrus groves. With two different strains to compare, scientists now have a better chance of combating the pest.

The current sequencing project was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Vineyard Foundation and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. And DNA from the California strain of Xylella was provided by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

"This is a good example of how scientists from developing and advanced countries can work together to solve mutual problems," says Andrew Simpson of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer research, which helped to coordinate the Xylella genome programme in Brazil.

The genetic sequence of the bacterium is published in the February issue of the Journal of Bacteriology.

Related external links:

Abstract of paper by Marie-Anne Van Sluys et al in the Journal of Bacteriology
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Photo credit: Patrick Tregenza/USDA

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