ST. LOUIS -- Scientists have sketched a "working draft" of the rice genome -- a step that could speed up improvement of one of the world's most important foods.
The research, funded by Monsanto Co., at the University of Washington in Seattle gives a rough description of gene structure and location on the 12 chromosomes of rice.
It should pave the way for a more complete sequencing of the plant's genome and the promise of better rice plants. Such research could help scientists learn more about other grains as well.
The research marks a number of firsts:
-- The first crop plant genome to be mapped, even roughly.
-- The first time a private enterprise will share a large volume of proprietary genome information with the world's scientists with no fees or patents.
-- The first use of a sequencing approach that tackled all of a plant genome's chromosomes at once, instead of one at a time.
Leroy Hood of the University of Washington developed the new sequencing approach and directed the research.
Monsanto announced Tuesday it will share the research results -- without a fee -- with the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, a 10-member, publicly financed consortium.
Gerard Barry, research group leader of the Monsanto genomics group, which is based in St. Louis, said the working draft "provides the first path toward understanding the structure of all the genes in rice. Its first applications will be in traditional plant breeding, first in rice, then corn, wheat, and other cereals related to rice."
For instance, if scientists know that the genes for a certain trait, such as drought resistance, are clustered in a particular spot on a chromosome, plant breeders can look for the desired genes early in the breeding process or in very young plants. Such an approach would speed up traditional breeding considerably, Barry said.
Having the working draft will also speed up the work of rice gene-mappers around the world. The Rice Sequencing Project has been assigning a rice chromosome to each member country to determine gene sequence -- with two chromosomes as yet untouched by the project scientists. The consortium had expected to complete the sequence by 2008.
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, a leader in the international project, released a statement Tuesday that "the use of this data by the international consortium will significantly accelerate decoding" of the entire rice genome.
Among the U.S. institutions involved in the project is the Genome Sequencing Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.