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Human Genome News, October-December 1996; 8:(2)

Arabidopsis Sequencing Scales Up

Scientists soon will have access to the first complete genetic information of a flowering plant. DOE, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are funding three groups of researchers to begin systematic, large-scale genomic sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana. It has the smallest genome (about 120 Mb) and the highest gene density known in a flowering plant. The ultimate goal is to sequence the entire Arabidopsis genome by the year 2004 at a rate of about 200 genes per month.

The three groups, whose grants total around $12 million, are Institute for Genomic Research; a consortium of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Washington University in St. Louis, and Applied Biosystems; and a consortium of Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of California, Berkeley.

The U.S. effort, which will contribute about two-thirds of the sequence, will dovetail with other large-scale sequencing projects in Europe and Japan through the Multinational Coordinated Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Research Project. The project was launched in 1990 by an international group of scientists who recognized the need to study a plant having the basic properties of all plants.

"Decoding the DNA of this model plant will provide a complete catalog of all the genes involved in the life cycle of a typical plant, from seed to flower and fruit," said Martha Krebs, director of the DOE Office of Energy Research. Potential applications of this knowledge could lead to improvements in the quality and quantity of alternative fuels and chemical feedstocks, as well as the use of plants to clean up contaminated soil.

What investigators 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. "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," Clutter said.

Catherine Woteki, USDA acting undersecretary of agriculture for research, education, and economics, added, "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 to several others, with tremendous possibilities. We're going to see productive results for years to come."

[HGMIS staff]

Note: The Arabidopsis thaliana Database Project (AtDB) is located at http://www.arabidopsis.org/. The GRAIL Version 1.3 Arabidopsis exon/gene-finding algorithm is available via FTP at [ftp no longer available]

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