MAJOR PLANT GENOME RESEARCH
FIRST COMPLETE GENE SEQUENCE OF PLANTS TO RESULT
Scientists will soon have access to the first complete genetic
information of a flowering plant. The Department of Energy (DOE), the
National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Agriculture
(USDA) have funded three groups of researchers to begin systematic,
large-scale genome sequencing of a plant named Arabidopsis thaliana.
The ultimate goal is to sequence the entire Arabidopsis genome at a
rate of about 200 genes per month and to develop the first complete
gene sequence of a higher plant. The three-year awards total
approximately $12 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. "Decoding the DNA of this model plant will
provide a complete catalog of all the genes involved in the life cycle
of the typical plant, from seed to flower and fruit," says Martha
Krebs, director of DOE's office of energy research. The Department of
Energy is supporting the plant sequencing effort because the
applications of the genetic information learned could be used to meet
a number of agency mission needs. Potential applications include
improved quality and quantity of biomass products such as alternative
fuels and chemical feedstocks (which can conserve petroleum resources)
and using plants to clean up contaminated soil (phytoremediation) at
DOE's former nuclear weapons production sites.
What scientists learn from the study of Arabidopsis genes 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 for study of one plant with the basic
properties of 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.
Catherine Woteki, USDA acting undersecretary of agriculture for
research, education, and economics adds, "Mapping the Arabidopsis
genome will enable us to use biotechnology to develop a host of new
plant varieties for agriculture and other purposes. This research is
like exploring a continent for the first time; each step leads on to
several others, with tremendous possibilities. We're going to see
productive results for years to come."
Although the three groups of researchers selected for the current
research grants are supported by separate awards, each is part of a
single project. "Their 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." The U.S. effort is being dovetailed with other
large-scale Arabidopsis genome sequencing projects in Europe and
Japan. The goal is to complete the sequence by the year 2004. U.S.
groups will contribute two-thirds of the sequence.
The three groups of researchers are:
* The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville,
* Consortium of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island,
New York, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and
Applied Biosystems in Foster City, California
* Consortium of Stanford University, the University of
Pennsylvania, and the University of California at Berkeley
NEWS MEDIA CONTACTS: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jeff Sherwood (DOE), 202/586-5806 September 25, 1996
Cheryl Dybas (NSF), 703/306-1070
Len Carey (USDA), 202/720-1358