NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A team of scientists from across the United States intends to announce a completed working draft of the corn genome this week.
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Iowa State University, the US Department of Agriculture, the University of Arizona, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory now have sequenced about 95 percent of the corn genome. They are expected to unveil this draft genome at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday.
The team sequenced a high yield corn variety called B73 during the three-year project, led by Washington University Genome Sequencing Center Director Richard Wilson. Sequencing the genome was a particularly daunting undertaking given the nature of corn’s roughly 2 billion base pair genome: it contains 50,000 to 60,000 genes — twice as many as humans — as well as long stretches of repetitive code and tens of thousands of jumping genes that move around within the genome.
“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,” Wilson said in a statement. “There were not a lot of landmarks to let us fit the pieces of the genome together.”
Corn, a multi-billion dollar crop, is used in everything from food products to shoe polish and ethanol. And the US is its chief producer, growing an estimated 13 billion bushels last year.
The approximately $30 million project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Energy. It’s being touted as a step toward not only improving corn’s nutritional qualities, but also its resistance to climate change and potential value as a biofuel and carbon sequestration tool.
In addition, researchers say, the sequence may provide clues about the genetics of other grasses such as wheat or sorghum.
“Although it’s still missing a few bits, the draft genome sequence is empowering,” Wilson said. “Virtually all the information is there, and while we may make some small modifications to the genetic sequence, we don’t expect major changes.”
The corn genome sequence data is available via GenBank or at www.maizesequence.org.