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Mountain pine beetle

Bioinformatics breakthrough battles beetles, cancer

September 24, 2009

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A research team led by SFU bioinformatics scientist Steven Jones has developed a quicker, more affordable way to sequence genomes that could advance the battles against the mountain pine beetle and possibly cancer.

Jones, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, developed the technique with researchers at both UBC and the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre, where he is head of bioinformatics. (A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.)

The team used novel computational approaches to quickly and cost-effectively identify the genes and proteins that make up the deadly blue-stain fungus transmitted by mountain pine beetles.

The match-head sized beetles kill pine trees by boring through their bark to feed and lay eggs, emitting the fungus that overwhelms tree defence systems and starves them of water and nutrients while staining the wood blue, making it less marketable.

But "the study has much wider implications," says Jones. "The computational and genetic tools we have developed to understand how
fungal genomes work are now being deployed to further knowledge about how cancer tumours work."

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