Bioscience

UA researchers help unlock the genetic secrets of corn

February 29, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: Deborah Daun, BIO5] – Relying on a genetic “physical map” developed by University of Arizona plant scientists, researchers from Washington University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Iowa State University, and the UA have completed a working draft of the corn genome. By unlocking the genetic secrets of this crop vital to U.S. agriculture, the researchers have gained information that could ultimately help society deal with drought, global warming, population pressures, and increasing energy needs.

“The impact is going to be tremendous,” says Rod Wing, PhD, co-principal investigator on the project and leader of the group that developed the physical map. Wing, a BIO5 member and director of the Arizona Genomics Institute in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says that the data contained in the draft genome could be used, for instance, to develop new strains of maize that need less water or can better respond to climate change, as well as to develop strains with higher yields to help feed the planet’s growing population. “It will also have an impact on the biofuel industry,” Wing says.

The genetic blueprint was announced Feb. 28, 2008 by the project’s leader, Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of Washington University’s Genome Sequencing Center, at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics Conference in Washington, D.C.

The $29.5 million project was initiated in 2005 and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. “Corn is one of the most economically important crops for our nation,” says NSF director Arden L. Bement, Jr. “Completing this draft sequence of the corn genome constitutes a significant scientific advance and will foster growth of the agricultural community and the economy as a whole.”

The process of unlocking the corn genome began at the UA, where Wing’s team, together with UA computer scientist Cari Soderlund, led the development of the genome’s physical map by, essentially, taking some 18,000 pieces of genetic material and assembling them in the proper order. Wing