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Arabidopsis Sequencing Hailed as Breakthrough for Plant Studies

NEW YORK, Dec 13 - The successful sequencing of the Arabidopsis thaliana genome constitutes “a major breakthrough” for plant biology studies, Claire Fraser, president of the Institute for Genomic Research, said Wednesday.

“As we’ve seen with other genome projects, the kind of questions you can ask if you know the genetic complement of an organism is really different than if the organism is a black box. Studies can be more efficient and more comprehensive,” Fraser told GenomeWeb.

On Wednesday the National Science Foundation announced that the Arabidopsis genome sequence had been completed and would be published on the cover of the December 14 issue of Nature .

The sequence was completed by the multinational Arabidopsis Genome Initiative , a consortium of research labs from the U.S., Europe, and Japan, that included the Institute for Genomic Research, which sequenced a third of the genome. Cold Spring Harbor and the European Union Arabidopsis Genome Sequencing Consortium also participated in the project.

The researchers on the project have mapped out over 118 million of the 125 million base pairs in the in the Arabidopsis genome in the most complete sequencing of a genome to date, according to Joseph Ecker, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies who worked on the sequencing project.

“Whereas some of the other projects have called [genomes] complete based on technical reasons, what we define as complete is the full gene coding portion of the genome excluding the ribosomal DNA and telomeres and centromeres,” said Ecker.   “We have made inroads into sequencing centromeres further than most groups and plan to finish by the end of next year.”

These centromere sequences could hold value for human biology because the sequence of the Arabidopsis centromere is similar to that in humans and “the information that lies within the centromere will be the driving force for how chromosomes separate from one another,” Ecker explained. By studying the protein microtubules in this plant, scientists can better understand the process of chromosome replication and cell division.

In the Nature issue, four articles will describe how researchers sequenced the entire genome of this weed. Three papers will focus on chromosomes one, three, and five of the Arabidopsis genome, according to Fraser. The cover article will provide a description and analysis of the sequence, she said.

The Arabidopsis sequence information will go into the public databases Genbank, EMBL, and DDBL in addition to the TAIR database, the Arabidopsis Information Resource.

" Today's news of the genome sequence completion could well mark the beginning of a whole new plant-genomics industry," Rita Colwell, National Science Foundation Director, was quoted in a statement as saying.

To further research the Arabidopsis genome, the NSF has launced a “" 2010 Project" in which researchers will explore the functions of 25,000 Arabidopsis genes over the next 10 years. This project comprises part of an international Arabidopsis functional genomics effort, to be coordinated in a similar manner to the Arabidopsis sequencing project.