Oct. 8, 1998 Scientists will soon have access to the first complete genome sequence of a flowering plant. The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), have funded two groups of researchers through renewal grants to continue systematic large-scale genome sequencing of the plant named Arabidopsis thaliana. The ultimate goal is to sequence the entire Arabidopsis genome and to determine the structure and function of every gene in this model plant. The combined three-year awards total $28.3 million.
Arabidopsis thaliana is a small plant in the mustard family, and has the smallest genome and the highest gene density so far identified in a flowering plant. What scientists learn from the study of Arabidopsis will be immediately applicable to economically important plant species, according to Mary Clutter, NSF assistant director for biological sciences, and will lead to the creation of new and improved plants and plant-based products.
"Because plants are vital to our existence, increased understanding of the biology of plants will impact every facet of our lives, from agriculture, to energy, to the environment, to health," says Clutter.
In 1990, the Multinational Coordinated Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Research Project was launched by an international group of scientists who recognized the need to examine in detail one simple plant with basic features common to all plants. "During the past several years, Arabidopsis has become established worldwide as the species of choice for molecular genetic studies of plant biology," says Clutter.
Martha Krebs, director of DOE's office of energy research, notes that Arabidopsis genome efforts have provided numerous scientific insights, as well as potential commercial products of interest to the energy community, including the high volume production of plastics. "Completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequencing project will help advance long-range research efforts toward engineering green plants for energy capture, production of energy-rich fuels and materials, and facilitating environmental remediation," Krebs predicts.
Adds Department of Agriculture deputy under secretary Eileen Kennedy, "Completing the sequencing for the model plant Arabidopsis is the key to unlocking what comes after. It will help scientists understand the basis for resistance to disease and pests in agriculturally important crops."
The two groups of researchers selected for the current research grants are: The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland; and a consortium of Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley. The two groups are part of the international consortium called AGI (Arabidopsis Genome Initiative) including an additional U.S. group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, two groups in Europe and a group in Japan. The AGI's goal is to complete the sequence by the end of the year 2000. "Activities will be coordinated to maximize efficiency and usefulness," says Clutter, "and information from the project will be widely disseminated so that researchers will gain maximum benefits."
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