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Plant and Animal Genome Conference

During January 2009 I was invited to speak at Arthopod Genomics Workshop as part of the 17th annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, California (10 -15 January). This conference is a great opportunity to find out what the state of the science of genomics is, especially of organisms of agricultural importance. I renewed some contacts with researchers that I already knew and made some interesting new contacts with other researchers including some from the USDA (Dr. Wayne Hunter) in Florida and the University of Texas (Dr. Blake Bextine).


One of the interesting highlights of the trip included an impression of the overall direction of genomics being in Next-Generation (high-throughput) Sequencing and gene expression methods. These types of studies far outweighed any other type of presentation at the conference. It appears to exceedingly easy (and a lot cheaper!) to sequence a non-model organism transcriptome as compared to even just a couple of years ago. There are still a lot of technical challenges to be overcome with these types of approaches, such as data management, computing power, software issues and analyses and error detection and management. Everyone seemed quite confident in the ability of researchers to overcome these issues and that the genomics was on the verge of a new revolution in gene discovery and that the next frontier was in Functional Genomics (i.e. just what exactly are these genes doing?).


Other highlights included a report on synthetic double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) being trialed in the USA as a new type of therapeutic for viral infections in honeybees. Honeybees are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in countries around the world and several viruses including Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) have been implicated as a major cause of CCD in the US and Israel. Researchers from Beeologics ( identified a viral replication gene within the viral genome of IAPV and targeted it with dsRNA to utilise the gene suppression effect of RNAi to reduce infection. The Beeologics researchers have invented a method to cheaply produce very large quantities of the dsRNA so that it could be fed directly to bees in sugar syrup placed within hives. I was informed that the company was making about a kilogram of dsRNA per month! The results of inoculation tests and ‘vaccination' (for want of a better term) with the dsRNA have been nothing short of spectacular. They have clearly demonstrated that this technique works very well in preventing infection of bees by IAPV. This work has interesting implications for other applications and diseases of agricultural (and possibly medical) importance as it uses a transient non-transgenic epigenetic effect to control infection. Future projects that were discussed involved research into applications against arthropod-borne diseases of plants as well as direct application to plants.


There were also a number of interesting presentations given including ecology researchers trying to identify genes involved in dispersal of butterfly populations using Next-Generation sequencing and expression methods as well as various industry presentations that gave an excellent overview on the most recent and potential applications of the latest Next-Generation technology.



When: January 2009
Location: San Diego
In January, Dr David Schlipalius was invited to speak at the Arthropd Genomics Workshop as part of the 17th Annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego.