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Pssst! Want a Peek of the National Plant Genome Initiative s Next Five-Year Plan?

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 14 - Attendees of Plant and Animal Genome XI this week got a sneak peek at the National Plant Genome Initiative's second five-year plan.


As many of the goals of the first five years were reached far ahead of schedule, according to Mary Clutter, co-chair on the interagency working group of plant genomes and NSF assistant director of biological sciences. "We're moving on," she said in her plenary lecture Monday.


Among the major objectives of the new plan, which is not yet available to the public, is finishing the rice genome and sequencing the gene-rich regions of the maize genome.


Comprising members of the White House, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, the working group makes recommendations on those areas their agencies should focus, and how much money should be spent.


In the functional genomics arena, the agencies will continue to support the Arabidopsis 2010 project, a worldwide effort to identify the function of the model plant's 25,498 Arabidopsis genes by the end of the decade.


Clutter also stressed that bioinformatics "is extremely important. And we are going to require that every project supported in the next five years will have an informatics component."


In addition to research, the plant initiative will also support education and training. "We're talking about undergraduate research experiences, graduate traineeships, as well as post doctoral traineeships. And we've been talking about mid-career kinds of training," said Clutter.


Since the working group was begun in 1998, Arabidopsis was sequenced four year early while a deep draft of rice was six years ahead of schedule. So in the upcoming years, "we would really like to support the expansion of genomics approaches to biodiversity, to ecology and ecosystem studies, renewable resources, and novel biomaterials," Clutter said.


"A lot of information has come out of our first five years," she said. From example, there were about 50,000 plant ESTs in GenBank in 1998. Today there are more than two million. "There are BAC libraries for more than 72 plant species. There are deep physical maps of maize, soybean, wheat, and there are lots of gene-expression profiling tools that are available," said Clutter.


For the past five years, the group requested the federal government allocate $400 million for the plant initiative. It got $350 million, said Clutter.


"We need to enhance the federal investment in the National Plant Genome Initiative," she said, but was mum on exactly how much the working group would demand. "Well, we don't know what our '03 budget is, and '03 started Oct. 1 '02 and we still don't have a budget for this year," she said. "So what you're talking about is '04 and into the future. We're not quite ready for that. But let me just say that we won't be shy about making a good recommendation."


Funds will also go to educating the public about the value of these plant projects through the media.


Although much of the money will go towards plants of economic importance, Clutter suggested that researchers working on any species, no matter how obscure, should apply. "We haven't predetermined what species will be sequenced," she said. "People that want to work on whatever species they think is key should send a proposal to any one of our agencies. And it will be peer reviewed and recommendations will be made for the funding."


Regardless of how the cash is distributed, the group insists that all data and resources be freely available. "We're going to require is that all results have to be shared. And that's sometimes a little harder than one might think ... not just the sharing of results but sharing of materials," said Clutter.


"All the resources produced by public funds will be openly accessible to all. And that means all--anyone anywhere in the world will have access to those resources and the data," she said.


The working had planned to hand out the report at the meeting, "but it's still undergoing review," said Clutter. "A lot of the agencies didn't have time to review the document to tell us it was OK to hand it out here." The full report will be available on the Web within a few weeks, she said.

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