March 15, 2005
Bid to Unlock Corn’s Genetic Code Gaining
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A trade group overseeing a partnership to unlock corn's genetic code said Monday the effort has gained "critical momentum," with more than 120 researchers already having accessed a searchable Web database created last year to hasten development of biotech crops.
The 8-month-old Web site pools research done on the corn genome by Monsanto Co. (MON), DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Monsanto research partner Ceres Inc.By offering up their data to researchers at nonprofit institutions for noncommercial use, the companies hope to develop hybrid and genetically modified plants that are more drought-resistant or can produce more nutritious corn or fibers.
The goal: Sequence the corn genome by 2007, perhaps several years ahead of when it otherwise would be completed without the initiative.
On Monday, the St. Louis-based National Corn Growers Association - overseeing the partnership - said the effort to map the maize genome "is gaining critical momentum," with researchers from 35 academic sites having accessed the database.
Jo Messing, director of the Waksman Institute and professor of molecular biology at Rutgers University said the database has roughly 1.8 million available sequence reads - more than four times what was previously available publicly.
"There are only little pieces of gene sequences available in the public domain, and in the past it's been very difficult to find completed gene sequences. The private collection offers a lot of those missing pieces," Messing said.
Land-grant universities including the University of Illinois, Oregon State University, Kansas State University and the University of Minnesota have accessed the site, as have overseas institutions such as Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, the Danish Institute of Agriculture Sciences and Germany's University of Hamburg.
Last week, St. Louis-based Monsanto said it has teamed with a biotechnology company and the U.S. government in a bid to unlock the genetic code of soybeans, hoping to supply breeders with technology that makes the crop more resistant to disease and drought.
As part of that deal, Monsanto, Genaissance Pharmaceuticals Inc. (GNSC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research arm seek to map DNA markers in soybeans, creating a detailed molecular genetic map. That information then will be freely available to U.S. soybean breeders and geneticists on federal databases and in scientific journals.
As part of the corn-genome partnership, donated data resides on a Web site developed and managed by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit research site near Monsanto's headquarters.
Scientists looking to see the database have to register through the corn growers association, certifying that they are conducting noncommercial work and agreeing to provide license options for Monsanto, Pioneer and Ceres.
The companies will benefit from completion of the genome sequence at no additional cost, given that government agencies and academic institutions are footing the researchers' bills.
Researchers eventually will publish their findings in scientific journals, after the companies preview the work and consider options for non-exclusive licensing deals.
On the Net:
National Corn Growers Association, http://www.ncga.com/
Corn-sequencing Web site, http://www.maizeseq.org/