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Int l Consortium to Step Up Effort to Complete Sequencing of Rice Genome

TSUKUBA, Japan, Feb 9 – Caught off guard by the recent announcement that Myriad Genetics and Syngenta had sequenced all 12 chromosomes in the rice genome, the international consortium of public rice researchers said Friday it would accelerate its effort to produce a complete sequence as quickly as possible.

Takuji Sasaki, chairman of the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, and Ben Burr, international coordinator of the 11-country consortium, told journalists gathered at the International Rice Genome Meeting that they had agreed to a new approach for getting the job done.

Following the announcement that Myriad and Syngenta had sequenced 99.5 percent of the rice genome, academic researchers voiced concerns that the public efforts might be diminished due to the commercial success.

To make IRGSP’s accelerated effort possible, the working group agreed to publish immediately all sequence that has at least 10-fold coverage and meets Phase II quality, which ensures that the pieces are correctly ordered and oriented. This would maintain the public project’s accuracy standards of 99.99 percent for published data, while, for the first time, allowing for gaps.

The three-year-old project has, to date, divided sequencing work by chromosome among the 11 participating countries, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and the UK. The new approach, however, will direct work on unsequenced chromosomes to countries, like Japan, that have the largest sequencing capacity. After that, responsibility for the finishing work will revert to the country assigned the chromosome under the original framework.

Sasaki and Burr said the consortium, which in addition to its own resources also has access to Monsanto's rough draft of the entire genome, had publicly released 30 million base pairs of sequence. They estimated that 10-fold sequence data of the entire genome could be published within the year.

Japan, which has the leading role in the project, could start accelerated sequencing as early as April, Sasaki said, working at full capacity to process 120 BACs per month.

Rice, at 430 megabases the smallest of the grain genomes, and a staple for an estimated half of the world’s population, is also considered a model for research into other cereals.

Sasaki said the accelerated effort would require additional funding. But each country’s situation is unique and until funding and capacity questions are answered, the actual division of labor among the participants will remain undecided. Countries that cannot keep up with the new pace, however, will still stay on as members, Sasaki said.

No projected supplemental budget figures were available.

IGRSP will also focus its attention on creating an integrated physical map and on evaluating sequence quality among consortium members, Sasaki said.

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