BLACKSBURG, Va., July 25, 2006 – Brett Tyler, professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) and of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science at Virginia Tech, has been invited by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to give a lecture as part of the federal agency’s Directorate for the Biological Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series on July 31, 2006.

Tyler will present a lecture titled, “Destroyers from a distant kingdom: systems biology of oomycete pathogens.” Oomycetes, which are in the kingdom Stramenopila, are parasitic relatives of diatoms and kelp. By a process of convergent evolution, these organisms have acquired many morphological and physiological characteristics of fungi, including the ability to cause disease in both plants and animals. They cause the greatest economic damage to plants and aquatic animals. One particular oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, caused the Irish potato famine and variants of the fungus cause soybean wilt and Sudden Oak Death.

Over the last five years, the increasing availability of genomics resources has helped advance the research on oomycetes. These resources have resulted in dramatic new insights into oomycete evolution and pathogenicity mechanisms. This includes the unexpected discovery that oomycetes appear to share a common mechanism with malaria parasites that introduces virulence proteins into their host cell's cytoplasm. Corresponding advances in the functional genomics of plants’ defense responses open the possibility for developing a systems-level understanding of oomycete-plant interactions, but important challenges remain in developing the algorithms and cyberinfrastructure needed to realize this potential.

The NSF’s Directorate for the Biological Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series is intended to attract and inform the NSF community about leading edge topics in biology, particularly the areas NSF supports. The spring series focused on various aspects of microbial biology and included talks from Ed DeLong, professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Division of Biological Engineering and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Bonnie Bassler, professor of Microbial Biology at Princeton University; and Mary Lidstrom, professor of Microbiology and Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington. 


Susan Bland
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Published by Susan Bland, August 07, 2006