Perhaps no other fungal genus contains species that are so harmful and species that are so beneficial to humans as the genus Aspergillus (1), and a large number of Aspergillus species are of biomedical and industrial significance. For example, A. nidulans is a key fungal model system for genetics and cell biology (2, 3), A. niger is widely exploited by the fermentation industry for the production of citric acid, whereas A. oryzae plays a key role in the fermentation process of several traditional Japanese beverages and sauces (4). In contrast, A. flavus is a plant and animal pathogen that also produces the potent carcinogen aflatoxin (5), whereas several other species (most notably A. fumigatus and A. terreus) are important opportunistic pathogens of individuals with compromised immune systems (6).
The genome sequences of A. nidulans (7), A. fumigatus (6) and A. oryzae (4) represented an enormous advance in the study of Aspergillus, providing the foundation for comparative and functional genomics studies. As part of the Fungal Genome Initiative, we have sequenced and annotated an additional Aspergillus species, A. terreus. Four additional recently sequenced genomes also fall within this phylogenetic group: A. flavus, A. niger, A. clavatus, and Neosartorya fischeri. The profoundly different lifestyles exhibited by each of this growing set of Aspergillus species for which genome sequences are available coupled with the varying degrees of evolutionary affinity shared by their genomes make Aspergillus a model clade to address fundamental questions in functional and comparative genomics.
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