Taming the wild one

Published: Thursday 31 January 2002

Its cleverness is marred by its destructiveness. Thankfully scientists have just cracked the nitty-gritty of its inner workings. Yes, microbe Agrobacterium tumefaciens's complete genetic code has been deciphered. A tumefaciens infects plants and gives them tumours that start producing chemicals on which the microbe likes to feed. Now that its genome has being deciphered, researchers can make the plants do more useful things than just turn themselves into microbial dinner cooks. The bacterium has helped plant scientists create new crops that grow larger and are even disease resistant. These plants have also been made to produce drugs in their leaves. The DNA sequence of the bacterium, known as strain 58, is freely available. "Knowledge gleaned from the genome sequence of A tumefaciens could be key to understanding the evolution of plant-microbe relationships," says Derek Wood, a microbiologist at the University of Washington, USA (www.news.bbc.co.uk, January 2, 2002).

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