Agrobacterium has the unique property of inserting small pieces of genetic material into a plant, animal or fungal cell that it colonizes. The bacterium has had great utility in molecular studies of botany, and has enabled scientists to study the effects of plant genes on various properties of plants such as growth rate, maturation, flower color and yield.
The organism also serves as a useful tool to study a number of infectious human diseases in which the inciting organism injects material into a cell.
On a practical side, Agrobacterium is a basic tool for genetic engineering of foodstuffs to produce crops that are more nutritious, less allergenic and disease-, insect-, salt- and cold-resistant, and a whole host of other promising traits.
The sequencing of the bacterial genome will provide insights into the unique properties of this organism, which enable it to undertake the genetic engineering of its host cells. This work is the culmination of almost two decades of work at the University of Washington by a group of microbiologists including Dr. Eugene Nester, Dr. Milton Gordon and Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton. The scale of the project was so large that the team included Dr. Maynard Olson, professor of medicine and genetics, and his researchers at the University of Washington Genome Center; researchers from DuPont and its subsidiary, Pioneer, who have a large sequencing facility; and the Brazil group, who had previously determined the sequence of another organism important to agriculture.
The genome of Agrobacterium is complex, containing a total of more than 5.67 million base pairs. The UW researchers say that from a broader perspective, this work is part of an ongoing second green revolution in agriculture. They say this revolution holds the promise of meeting the needs of an increasing world population - at a time when water, agricultural land, and forests are becoming increasingly scarce.