Washington, February 26 : Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have completed a working draft of the corn genome.
The researchers say that their work attains significance as it may accelerate efforts to develop better crop varieties to meet society's growing demands for food, livestock feed and fuel.
Dr. Richard K. Wilson, director of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, will unveil the genetic blueprint at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics Conference in Washington, D.C. on February 28.
"This first draft of the genome sequence is exciting because it's the first comprehensive glimpse at the blueprint for the corn plant. Scientists now will be able to accurately and efficiently probe the corn genome to find ways to improve breeding and subsequently increase crop yields and resistance to drought and disease," Wilson says.
Arden L. Bement Jr, the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the 29.5 million-dollar project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, said: "Corn is one of the most economically important crops for our nation. 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 draft covers about 95 per cent of the corn genome, and scientists will spend the remaining year of the grant refining and finalizing the sequence.
"Although it's still missing a few bits, the draft genome sequence is empowering. Virtually all the information is there, and while we may make some small modifications to the genetic sequence, we don't expect major changes," Wilson says.
He has revealed that the group associated with the project sequenced a variety of corn known as B73, which is noted for its high grain yields. Developed at Iowa State decades ago, it has been used extensively in both commercial corn breeding and in research laboratories.
Experts believe that the genome will be a key tool for researchers working to improve varieties of corn, and other cereal crops like rice, wheat and barley.
While talking about the team's experience during the project, Wilson said: Sequencing the corn genome was like putting together a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with lots of blue sky and blue water, with only a few small sailboats on the horizon. There were not a lot of landmarks to help us fit the pieces of the genome together."
The research team is now planning to look for genetic similarities and differences between corn and rice, the only other crop to have its genome sequenced before corn.