Researchers from the University of Arizona’s Bio5 Institute and UA’s plant sciences department are part of an international consortium that has successfully deciphered the complete genetic code of the rice plant.
Carol Soderlund, a member of Bio5’s Quantitative Biology Consortium, developed the software used to build the map for the American portion of the rice sequencing collaboration. Rod Wing led the UA research team, which not only developed the framework for the mapping project but also sequenced parts of two chromosomes.
“Rice is the most important food crop in the world, feeding half the population,” Wing said. “Demand is expected to double in 50 years, so we need to learn all we can about rice. The genetic sequence is the beginning of that.”
The 10-country consortium, led by Japan, began its work in 1998 and finished well ahead of its scheduled completion date of 2008.
Rice, a dietary staple in poverty-stricken countries around the world, is the first crop plant whose genome has been fully mapped and sequenced. The result is also one of the most accurate and complete genome sequences thus far obtained from a multicellular organism. The finished sequence maps 12 chromosomes of the rice plant—about 37,500 genes. The rice genome contains about 7,500 more genes than the human genome.
The rice plant genetic map could be used to improve existing rice varieties and develop new ones. For example, researchers can now pin down genes linked to desirable properties such as crop yield, drought tolerance, and pest resistance. In addition, the rice sequence could be a reference for other cereal crops, such as corn and wheat, which evolved from the same ancestor and share similar genetic information.
The results were published in the August issue of Nature.
Last year, Wing and his research team won the USDA Honor Award, the most prestigious award given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wing, an internationally recognized scientist who plays a key role in Bio5’s Genome Structure and Function Consortium, joined UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2002. Bio5 helped fund the move.
For more information:
Bio5 News release, 08/11/2005
UA rice genome researchers win national award, 07/16/2004