Genome of a social amoeba sequenced for the first time


Successful project involving researchers from Cologne and Jena funded by a DFG initiative

As part of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft's (DFG, German Research Foundation) "Genome Sequencing" initiative, researchers at the Center for Biochemistry and Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne, University of Cologne, and the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMB) in Jena, working as part of an international collaboration with colleagues from the USA, the United Kingdom, Japan and France have sequenced the genome of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. The results of their research are published in the current issue of Nature (Nature 435, 5 May 2005). Over the course of several years, the German team, led by Angelika Noegel, Ludwig Eichinger, Gernot Glöckner, André Rosenthal and Matthias Platzer, as part of the international team, has sequenced 60 percent of the 34 million or so bases that constitute this minute creature's genetic makeup.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered about 12,500 genes – human beings only have about twice as many. This means that Dictyostelium could not only help explain a number of questions relating to cell biology and evolution, but could even be used to characterise human genes whose function remains unclear or whose mutation results in diseases. The Dictyostelium genome was also found to be rich in protein bases that result in human diseases, in fact they were found to be more abundant than in any other sequenced genome. Understanding how the social amoeba is able to tolerate this type of protein could pave the way to novel therapeutic approaches.

Starvation prompts the solitary cells to aggregate and develop as a multicellular organism consisting of up to 100,000 cells, where individual members of the community sacrifice themselves to ensure the survival of others. In terms of its developmental lineage, the social amoeba dates back to before the plant-animal split. Studying it can therefore contribute greatly to our understanding of the evolution of higher organisms. The large number of genes which have been found evidently reflect the demands Dictyostelium discoideum is subjected to in its habitat and in the development of a multicellular organism. A remarkably high proportion are responsible for the production and exchange of substances which could be used for nutrition, defence mechanisms or communication between Dictyostelium cells.

The DFG's Executive Committee brought the genome sequencing initiative into being in 1997 in order to boost genome research in Germany, which was still severely underdeveloped at the time. The Dictyostelium Genome Sequencing Project has been funded by the DFG since 1998. The DFG contributed a total of €4 million to the project. The sequencing and analysis work conducted in Houston, Paris and Hinxton (UK) was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health in the USA, the European Union and the British Medical Research Council. Funding by the DFG was also decisive for the funding decisions made by these agencies.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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