Scientists from several laboratories collaborated to map the corn genome, which will provide plant breeders with new tools for improving yield, disease resistance and other traits.
The completion of a high-quality sequence of the maize genome is announced in the cover story of the November 20, 2009, issue of Science.
This new genome sequence reports the sequence of genes in maize and provides a detailed physical map of the maize genome. This map identifies the order in which genes are located along each of maize's 10 chromosomes and the physical distances between those genes.
Additional information provided by the new maize genome sequence includes the locations on chromosomes of interesting, repeated sections of DNA (called centromeres) that are responsible for the faithful inheritance of those chromosomes by daughter cells during cell division.
This new genome sequence represents a major watershed in genetics because it promises to: 1) advance basic research of maize and other grains and 2) help scientists and breeders improve maize crops, which are economically important and serve as globally important sources of food, fuel and fiber. Resulting improved strains of maize may, for example, produce larger yields, show resistance to disease, offer efficiencies in nitrogen use that would enable farmers to reduce applications of costly, polluting fertilizers, and tolerate changes in rainfall or temperature accompanying climate change.
The research team and its funding
The new maize sequence was produced by a consortium of researchers that was led by the Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and included the University of Arizona, Iowa State University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. This sequencing project was part of a joint Department of Energy/Department of Agriculture (USDA)/ National Science Foundation (NSF) effort that was funded by NSF under the auspices of the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI).
The NPGI, which began in 1998, is an ongoing effort to understand the structure and function of all plant genes at levels from the molecular and organismal to interactions within ecosystems. The NPGI focuses on plants of economic importance and plant processes of potential economic value.
"Production of a high quality maize genome sequence was a high priority for the NPGI from the beginning," said Jane Silverthorne of NSF. "This accomplishment builds on technological advances and basic research into maize biology that were essential to the design of the most cost-effective strategy to assemble and anchor the genes onto the genetic and physical maps."