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USDA Funds New Center For Comparative Genomics, Bioinformatics At Cornell Univ.

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ITHACA, NY--The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has chosen Cornell University to house a new facility for research on and storage of genetic data on grains and other food plants. It will be known as the Center for Bioinformatics and Comparative Genomics, agency officials announced last month. Sources said USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would contribute $1.5 million this year to operate the center on the Cornell campus here.

ARS said the center "will aid researchers around the country and the world in the quest to discover all the genes in grains--like corn, wheat, and rice--and plants in the family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers." The center, slated to open in the spring, will be linked to the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell's Department of Plant Breeding, the Cornell Theory Center, Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experimental Station, and USDA's Plant Genetics Resources Unit in Geneva, NY.

Samuel Cartinhour, an ARS molecular biologist with informatics expertise, will direct the center. "Bringing Cornell's Theory Center, Cornell's Department of Plant Breeding, and the ARS together on this constitutes a new, higher level of research infrastructure," Cartinhour said. "The new center will make day-to-day research easier and more effective by making data and analysis tools more accessible to investigators."

ARS and Cornell currently maintain three public databases of information about the structure of genes in grain crops and the Solanaceae family, called GrainGenes, SolGenes, and RiceGenes. ARS said the new center, which will rely on the computational expertise of Cornell's supercomputer facility, will strengthen the existing partnership.

Officials said plans for the center would be implemented through increased ARS funding, with the addition of several ARS bioinformatics specialists. Cornell faculty in the Department of Plant Breeding and Biometry and the Cornell Theory Center will join ARS staff in the new genomics center.

The new facility will be part of Cornell's proposed Genomic Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort by the university to use increasingly sophisticated equipment and techniques for obtaining and analyzing genetic data. ARS researchers helped formulate proposals for the initiative.

--Adrienne Burke

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