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Vol.11, No. 3-4   July 2001

Plant Genome Significant to Agriculture, Energy, Human Health

For the first time, scientists have sequenced the complete genetic material of a plant, that of the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana. The international Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI) consortium published the results and early analyses in the December 14, 2000, issue of Nature, and articles are freely available on the Web through Nature's Genome Gateway [http://www.nature.com/genomics/papers/a_thaliana.html].

Scientists expect that systematic studies will illuminate numerous features of plant biology, including those of significant value to agriculture, energy, environment, and human health.

AGI, a collaboration of research groups in the United States, Europe, and Japan, is funded by government agencies on three continents. U.S. research was supported in large part by DOE's Office of Basic Energy Sciences, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Related to broccoli and cauliflower, Arabidopsis has emerged as a powerful tool in plant molecular biology because of its rapid life cycle, small physical size, and relatively small genome (125 Mb). The genome is organized into 5 chromosomes containing some 26,000 genes. Genes are compact and closely spaced (about 4.6 kb apart), suggesting short regulatory regions compared with animal genomes.

Potential Applications
Having the entire genome will help researchers identify plant-specific gene functions and develop rapid, systematic ways to locate genes important for growing larger crops that are more resistant to disease and weather and produce useful chemicals more efficiently. Plants also hold great potential as sources of renewable energy, although they currently represent just 3% of U.S. energy resources. Completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequence is revealing new information on how photosynthesis converts solar energy and carbon dioxide into biomass, helping scientists develop better plants for fuel and chemical uses.

The complete sequence of Arabidopsis is directly relevant to human biological functions as well, because many fundamental life processes at the molecular and cellular levels are common to all higher organisms. Some of those processes are easier to study in Arabidopsis than in human or animal models. Arabidopsis contains numerous genes similar to those that prompt human diseases ranging from cancer and premature aging to ailments such as Wilson's disease, in which the human body's inability to excrete copper can be fatal.

Gene Function Project
To help researchers capitalize on the genome sequence, NSF has begun the "2010 Project" to study the function of 26,000 Arabidopsis genes over the next decade. Thus far, scientists have determined experimentally the roles of only about 1000, with another 14,000 estimated using computational methods to identify similarities of genes with known functions. Strategies will involve inactivating or over expressing each gene, one at a time, and observing the consequences. The NSF 2010 Project is part of a worldwide Arabidopsis functional genomics effort that will be coordinated in a manner similar to the Arabidopsis genome sequencing project.

For news, data, an interactive MapViewer, analysis tools, laboratory protocols, and useful links, see The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR; http://www.arabidopsis.org).

The electronic form of the newsletter may be cited in the following style:
Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v11n3-4).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.