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Highlights of the Plant and Animal Genome Conference

C. S. Prakash Prakash at Acd.Tusk.Edu
Sat Feb 1 12:40:16 EST 1997

Here I reproduce my article on the highlights of the recent Plant & Animal
Genome meeting held in San Diego that appeared in the February '96 ISB News
Report.  You can receive this free newsletter through email or in hard
copy. Visit http://www.nbiap.vt.edu or send an email to
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While the global effort to map and sequence the massive human genome is
cruising well on schedule, scientists are also making impressive
strides in understanding the genomes of plants and animals of
agricultural importance.  This progress in agricultural genome research
is especially admirable considering its special challenges: a large
number of organisms being studied each with unique complexities;
relatively lower funding levels and fewer number of scientists working
with any single organism when compared to the human genome project.
When more than five hundred scientists from across the world gathered
in San Diego between January 12-16, 1997 for the Plant and Animal
Genome V Conference, the outcome was a testimony for the achievements
made in understanding the genomes of organisms that feed the world.
While the San Diego meeting has been an annual ritual for plant genome
scientists every January for the past four years, this year s meeting
included the animal genome researchers for the first time.

More than 125 invited presentations and workshop lectures along with
400 poster presentations marked this year s conference.  The workshops
were essentially commodity based and provided glimpses into recent
developments in the genome studies of plants such as rice, cotton,
maize, legumes, fruit trees, sugarcane, forest trees, triticaceae,
solanaceae, compositae and also of animals such as cattle/sheep, horse,
pig, poultry and fish.  Detailed genetic maps of these species have
been developed using molecular approaches such as RFLP, RAPD, AFLP and
microsatellites, and are providing valuable insights into their genome
organization and also helping scientists to identify useful genes.
Workshops also featured computer applications such as showcasing new
software for genome analysis, the World Wide Web sites offering
agricultural genome databases and the use of Java programming language
that helps in providing interactive content for graphical genome

In his plenary lecture, Bradie Metheny of the Washington FAX newsletter
called on agricultural genome researchers to play a more proactive role
in explaining the importance of their work to law makers and the
general public.  He said that such efforts are critical in raising the
funding levels for agricultural genome research and in ensuring
elevating agricultural productivity through biotechnology.  David Cox
of Stanford University described the utility of radiation hybrids in
developing high resolution genome maps where human cells exposed to
radiation are fused to hamster cells to create hybrids with select
chromosomes.  David Schwartz of New York University talked about
optical mapping where DNA molecules are fixed on modified surfaces, cut
by restriction enzymes and observed under powerful microscopes to
produce high density maps.  Glen Evans of University of Texas showed
how advanced automation and robotics are being employed by human genome
scientists in their quest for high-throughput sequencing.  Steven
Tanksley of Cornell University explained his group s success in
isolating, for the first time, a large segment of tomato chromosome
containing quantitative trait loci for fruit weight.

Many plant disease resistance genes have been identified recently and
thus further advances made in this area were of considerable interest.
Gregory Martin of Purdue University used a novel yeast-two hybrid
system to isolate genes encoding proteins involved in plant-pathogen
specificity while Pamela Ronald of University of California-Davis
described further progress in isolating resistance genes in rice
against bacterial blight.  As many disease resistance genes across
plant species appear to share similar nucleotide sequences, scientists
have developed degenerate primers corresponding to such sequences and
used PCR to isolate resistance gene analogs in plant species.  Saghai
Maroof of Virginia Tech and Randy Shoemaker of USDA/ARS have exploited
this approach to isolate molecular markers for disease resistance gene
clusters in soybean.

Carol Hamilton of Cornell University described a new vector that
enables the transfer of multiple foreign genes into plants.  The binary
bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) vector is capable of transferring
DNA molecules larger than 150 kilobases using Agrobacterium and
represents a significant improvement over current methods. This
development paves the way for future introduction of multiple genes
such as those controlling yield traits into crop plants. Many BAC
libraries containing large chromosome pieces derived from crop or
animal species were described during the San Diego meeting.  Such
libraries are helping researchers to identify useful genes through a
positional cloning approach.

One clear message that has come across from comparative studies on
genetic maps of crop species is that gene order and gene content even
among unrelated plants appears to be similar.  Andrew Paterson of Texas
A & M University and Jeff Bennetzen of Purdue University elaborated on
how such unified genetic maps are helping in our understanding of
genome evolution in agricultural plants and how a genetic map from one
species would help in the development of maps in other species.

The weed plant Arabidopsis is definitely the darling of many plant
genome researchers because of its short life cycle, extremely small
genome size and fewer repeat sequences.  An international effort to
sequence the complete genome of Arabidopsis is now underway.  Genes
from Arabidopsis can be isolated with relative ease and their
availability would help in the rapid isolation of similar genes from
crop plants.  Many scientists described their progress with the genome
analysis of Arabidopsis including the use of  Expressed Sequence Tags
(EST), the use of advanced computing techniques such as neural networks
in such analysis and the international collaborative ventures.

The AFLP markers are clearly gaining popularity among genome
researchers as evident by the number of studies using this marker
system (See the May 1996 ISB News Report for description of this
technique).  A workshop on AFLP markers featured Pieter Vos of Keygene,
a codeveloper of this technique, who described recent applications of
AFLP technology including YAC contig fingerprinting.  Keygene also
demonstrated their new computer software which helps in the analysis of
complex AFLP blots using image analysis.

Abstracts of all the invited presentations, workshop lectures and
posters presented at the Plant and Animal Genome V Conference can be
viewed on the World Wide Web at

C. S. Prakash
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research
Tuskegee University
prakash at acd.tusk.edu

C. S. Prakash                                   Prakash at Acd.Tusk.Edu
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research
Tuskegee University                              Phone (334) 727 8023
College of Agriculture                           Fax     (334) 727 8552
Tuskegee, AL 36088. USA

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