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CSREES, NSF, and DOE Award $32 Million to Sequence Corn Genome

USDA: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188
NSF: Randy Vines, (703) 292-7963

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2005 – The National Science Foundation (NSF), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of Energy (DOE) have awarded $32 million to a team of university and private laboratory researchers to sequence the maize genome.

"Knowing the genetic sequence of maize will help researchers to increase yields, reduce inputs and develop more disease-resistant varieties," said Joseph Jen, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics.  "More broadly, it will also hold clues to improve the growth and development of other related grass crops, such as wheat and barley."

“Having a genome sequence for maize will advance our understanding of the biology of important but poorly understood processes such as hybrid vigor and asexual plant production. This investment is yet another step along the road in using genomics to transform the plant sciences, ” remarked James Collins, head of the biological sciences directorate at NSF.

The maize genome contains an estimated 50,000–60,000 genes scattered among the 2.5 billion bases of DNA that make up its 10 chromosomes. By comparison, the human genome contains about 2.9 billion bases and approximately 26,000 genes.

Richard Wilson, lead investigator for the project at Washington University said, “In many ways, this sequencing effort is comparable to that of the human genome as the two are nearly the same size. However, the dispersed arrangement of genes, coupled with the many segments of repeated DNA sequence, represent unique challenges for this effort.”

The interdisciplinary team will draw on the successes of many other completed sequencing efforts, including some previously sequenced sections of the maize genome as well as the rice and human genomes, to ensure the speed and accuracy of the project. All sequence data produced by the team will be deposited immediately into GenBank, a public repository for genome sequence data.

Maize ranks among the world's major grain crops and dominates American agriculture. In 2004, 81 million acres of corn were planted with a production value of over $23 billion. Corn ranks tops among U.S. exports, with an estimated 2 billion bushels shipped out of the country in 2004.

Corn is not only grown for food and feed, it is converted to a myriad of processed food products—literally thousands of products in the typical supermarket contain corn. Corn is also an important material for many industrial purposes and products including rubber, plastics, fuel and clothing.

Researchers on the maize genome sequencing project are from Washington University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Iowa State University, University of Arizona, University of California, Berkeley, the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, University of Georgia and Stanford University .

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.