Major Lab Bacterium Sequenced

The first genome sequence of a commercially and scientifically valuable group of bacteria has been completed by an international team led by researchers in the European Union (EU). The complete sequence of the 4.2 million bases in the genome of Bacillus subtilis was announced this week at a meeting of B. subtilis specialists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. The project, to which the EU contributed $5.3 million, began in 1990.

The bacterium is a commercial workhorse, secreting high concentrations of enzymes for industry. It's also popular in the lab as a tool for studying protein secretion and as a member of the so-called "gram-positive" group of bacteria. This includes notorious pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, the scourge of surgical patients, and the bacteria causing tetanus and anthrax. "The sequence information should help boost our understanding of the mechanisms of protein secretion and pathogenesis in gram-positive bacteria," says team member Frank Kunst of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Part of the sequence is currently available on the Pasteur Institute Web site, and the rest will be posted within a few months.

EU scientists completed 60% of the sequence, with Japanese researchers doing 30%. The remaining work was done by labs in the United States, Korea, and other countries. The EU now plans a follow-up program to study the function of each of B. subtilis's estimated 4000 genes. "Comparison of the genomes of other bacteria and other organisms will provide us with the most complete understanding of what is required to sustain microbial life," says Kunst.