Workshop will guide USDA in development of genomics programs

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In what some scientists called a "watershed event in science," researchers working to map all the human genes announced that they had essentially completed the project in June, placing in proper order most of the 3.1 billion subunits of DNA that make up the human genome.

As genome research leaps forward, veterinarians are at the vanguard of new scientific discoveries.

The recently formed USDA Microbial Genomics Stakeholder Workshop for Animal Health and Food Safety Pathogens is a group that will provide input to help guide the agency as it continues to develop its intramural and extramural microbial genomics programs. The effort is supported by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

A team of 23 panelists representing universities and health organizations from around the world were chosen by the co-chairs appointed to the workshop. The co-chairs are Vivek Kapur, PhD, from the University of Minnesota (one of the winners of the 2000 Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teaching Award, and member of the team that sequenced a turkey strain of Pasteurella multocida as one of the first sequencing projects of an animal-specific pathogen); Dr. Carole Bolin of the USDA-ARS National Animal Disease Center; and Dr. Brad Fenwick from Kansas State University.

The panelists will assemble a priority list of animal health and food safety pathogens that will be better understood with microbial genomics tools, and they will include a rationale for the classifications. "Obviously we want to sequence the organisms that will give us the biggest return on the limited funds that are currently available, and those are often based on economic impacts of the disease, such as lack of vaccines and difficult genetic system," Dr. Fenwick said.

The workshop will submit its conclusions to the USDA to guide the agency in ongoing and future prioritization strategies. The goal is to enhance national and international coordination of animal microbial genomics among the research community, professional organizations, commodity organizations, and other stakeholders.

"The USDA will use the list to focus its funding," Dr. Fenwick said. "Producer groups may use the list as well."

He hopes the list will encourage interested groups to fund individual projects or lobby Congress to support USDA funding of these projects. The workshop's report will be jointly posted on the ARS and CSREES Web sites.

Dr. Fenwick said the workshop has invited commentary from the veterinary community to help achieve these goals. "We're in the second phase of this project, and now we're looking for input, not just from researchers, but from producers and practitioners."

More information about the program can be found at

"This whole process has been viewed as something unique," Dr. Fenwick said. "Something that veterinary medicine has taken a lead on."