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European network completes genomic sequence of a major bacterium

A European research network, supported by the EU within the framework of the specific RTD programme in the field of Biotechnology (BIOTECH), has announced that it has completed the determination of the 4.2 million bases of the genome of the industrially important bacterium, "B...
A European research network, supported by the EU within the framework of the specific RTD programme in the field of Biotechnology (BIOTECH), has announced that it has completed the determination of the 4.2 million bases of the genome of the industrially important bacterium, "Bacillus subtilis". The announcement, made during the 9th International Conference on Bacilli (Lausanne, 15-19 July 1997), marks a significant step forward in our understanding of the living world.

"Bacillus subtilis" and its close relatives are an important source of industrial enzymes (e.g. amylases, proteases) and much of the commercial interest in them arises from their capacity to secrete these enzymes at high concentrations. It has, therefore, been an organism of choice for the study of protein secretion and the production of commercially valuable proteins.

This project has significant medical importance. Although B. subtilis itself is a safe microbe, it is also a very effective model for the study of diseases caused by its relatives: B. anthracis (which causes anthrax) and B. cereus (which causes food poisoning). In addition, knowledge of this sequence will enable us to identify potential targets for the development of new antibiotics active against newly emerging diseases. Already several genes involved in the production of proteins with antibiotic properties have been discovered in this genome and it is possible that it may become a source for producing new antibiotics from engineered genes.

In combination with a new programme, also funded by the European Commission, attempts will be made to define the functions of all 4,000 genes of this bacterium. Although the complete analysis of this huge amount of information will take several years, a preliminary analysis has already revealed some interesting features and a number of gene products of potential commercial importance have been identified.

In order to facilitate contacts between project participants and European biotechnology companies, and to exploit potential commercial applications of the genes discovered, an industrial platform has been set up involving the following companies: Gist Brocades (NL), Glaxo-Wellcome (GB), Novo Nordisk (Denmark), Frimond (Belgium), Hoechst Marion Roussel (France, Germany), SmithKline Beecham (United Kingdom), Dupont de Nemours (France, USA), Genencor (Finland, USA) and Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Switzerland).

Funded by the European Commission, this project began life in September 1990 when a network of five European laboratories commenced work on a pilot scale in order to test the feasibility of the project. The project gradually grew in size to become a consortium of twenty-eight laboratories in six European countries, coordinated at the Institut Pasteur in Paris (France).

The international importance of the research work carried out is reflected in the participation of a consortium of seven Japanese laboratories, coordinated at the Nara Institute of Life Sciences, Japan, who joined the project in 1991. Contributions were also received from one Korean and two US laboratories.

Commenting on the breakthrough, Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for research, innovation, education, training and youth, stressed that "It reflects the state-of-the-art research work supported by the EU's biotechnology programmes which, in recent years, have been at the forefront of science and technology, achieving several world firsts, including the complete sequencing of the yeast genome in 1996."

Source: European Commission, DG XII

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