|Most of us dont
feel the need to know everything about any fungus. Not so in Dr. Ralph
Deans world. Dean is a professor of plant pathology, and the
founding director of NC States new Fungal Genomics Laboratory
(FGL). A relatively new faculty member, Dean is a great example of
the genomic sciences research and teaching faculty attracted to NC
State in the past few years.
Dean was recruited in 1999 from his position as associate director
of the Clemson University Genomics Institute, an international center
dedicated to applying genomics research to improve crop plants. He
was able to transfer about $500,000 in research funding to NC State.
Since arriving, he has brought in an additional $11.1 million in government
and industry funding, making the FGL the worlds best funded,
most cutting-edge laboratory addressing fungal genomics at a public
According to Dr. Johnny Wynne, associate dean for research in the
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, This is what we were
counting on when we took the risk of building Ralph a million-dollar
office and laboratory suite on our Centennial Campus. We wanted the
FGL to have what it needed to be the best. Deans lab shares
a new research building with the Bioinformatics Research Center and
the Genome Research Laboratory, two university facilities with brainpower
and millions of dollars of equipment that support the FGL and other
genomics work at NC State.
A primary target of the FGL is the understanding of the interaction
between rice and the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe grisea, one of
the main pathological threats to food supplies world wide. Enough
rice is lost to the disease annually to feed 60 million people. Strains
of the fungus attack other cereals including wheat and barley. Its
a major pestilence, particularly in developing countries.
In 1998, Dean helped launch the Rice Blast Genome Initiative, an international
consortium with members from the United States, Europe and Asia pursuing
genome sequencing and function for this important fungal pathogen.
Long concerned with mechanisms of fungal disease and gene discovery
work, he has specialized his research for this project, looking for
the genes that are critical to rice blast disease and potential targets
for intervention. Simply put, Dean says, the question
is: What is being produced by the rice blast fungus that is affecting
the host plant?
After characterizing several important genes, FGL staff have taken
a more global approach to the study, mapping and studying the expression
patterns of 400 genes from one of the rice blasts seven chromosomes.
The next step is to identify all the genes in the organism. This
has opened up the field of how fungal organisms perceive the environment
and has put us in a groundbreaking position for elucidating the molecular
basis of plant disease in general, says Dean.
Dozens of other labs around the world are emulating the FGLs
strategy. Were right at the top of the pile, Dean
likes to say. But that was not his real goal. Hes really going
after curbing world hunger.
more information, please visit http://www.fungalgenomics.ncsu.edu