Phytophthora species and their relatives, called oomycetes or "water molds," are fungus-like organisms that are close cousins of kelp and diatoms. The two species of the pathogen to be analyzed are P. sojae and P. ramorum. The pathogen has attacked a number of plants worldwide, including soybean, cacao, potato, and forest trees. P. sojae alone is estimated to have already destroyed more than $1 billion in soybean crops worldwide. P. ramorum is responsible for a disease called "Sudden Oak Death syndrome" that is killing California oak, redwood and Douglas fir forests and is a threat to coastal forest ecosystems. East coast red and pin oak forests are threatened as well.
"This pathogen is very similar to fungi, but is unaffected by most fungicides," said NSF's Microbial Program Director Patrick Dennis. "The successful mapping of the genome will go a long way toward identifying new strategies to control the pest and to reduce the devastation that would certainly result if it were allowed to go unchallenged."
Dr. Brett Tyler, a molecular biologist, will lead the research. "Phytophthora pathogens are literally destroyers from a distant kingdom," said Tyler. "The genome sequences of these two species will for the first time enable us to identify and target their vulnerabilities in order to control them."
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