First author: Department of Plant Pathology, 4024 Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center, Kansas State University, Manhattan 66506; second author: Department of Plant Pathology, University of Georgia, Athens 30602; third author: Plant Molecular Biology Lab, 435 Old Glade Road, VPI and State University, Blacksburg, VA; and fourth author: Eversole Associates, 3208 Park View Rd., Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Plant-associated microorganisms are critical to agricultural and food security and are key components in maintaining the balance of our ecosystems. Some of these diverse microbes, which include viruses, bacteria, oomycetes, fungi, and nematodes, cause plant diseases, whereas others prevent diseases or enhance plant growth. Despite their importance, we know little about them on a genomic level. To intervene in disease and understand the basis of biological control or symbiotic relationships, a concerted and coordinated genomic analysis of these microbes is essential. Genome analysis, in this context, refers to the structural and functional analysis of the microbe DNA including the genes, the proteins encoded by those genes, as well as noncoding sequences involved in genome dynamics and function. The ultimate emphasis is on understanding genomic functions involved in plant associations. Members of The American Phytopathological Society (APS) developed a prioritized list of plant-associated microbes for genome analysis. With this list as a foundation for discussions, a Workshop on Genomic Analysis of Plant-Associated Microorganisms was held in Washington, D.C., on 9 to 11 April 2002. The workshop was organized by the Public Policy Board of APS, and was funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and USDA-National Research Initiatives (USDA-NRI). The workshop included academic, industrial, and governmental experts from the genomics and microbial research communities and observers from the federal funding agencies. After reviewing current and near-term technologies, workshop participants proposed a comprehensive, international initiative to obtain the genomic information needed to understand these important microbes and their interactions with host plants and the environment. Specifically, the recommendations call for a 5-year, $500 million international public effort for genome analysis of plant-associated microbes. The goals are to (i) obtain genome sequence information for several representative groups of microbes; (ii) identify and determine function for the genes/proteins and other genomic elements involved in plant-microbe interactions; (iii) develop and implement standardized bioinformatic tools and a database system that is applicable across all microbes; and (iv) educate and train scientists with skills and knowledge of biological and computational sciences who will apply the information to the protection of our food sources and environment.