June 29, 2009

New British Genomics Center To Focus On Improving Crop Plants

A new research center from Britain's Biotechnology Research Council (BBSRC) will decode the DNA of plants and animals used in agriculture in an effort to help farmers boost food production, BBC News reported.

Economically and socially important plants such as wheat and ryegrass will be among the research conducted at the center.

Experts also hope the research could present new ways of breeding livestock that is better able to resist emerging diseases, such as Bluetongue.

The Genome Analysis Center (TGAC) will attempt to help develop crops with increased tolerance to drought and new antibiotics to fight so-called superbugs, scientists said.

An independent advisory board will decide the exact projects that TGAC will initially work on, but there's particular interest in creating sustainable biofuels and vegetables containing compounds that reduce the incidence of some cancers.

The center's director, Dr. Jane Rogers, said the Norwich-based institute has become possible because of the falling cost of sequencing plant and animal genomes.

She acknowledged that the cost of sequencing has been coming down markedly over the past few years.

"Instead of large international consortiums having to work over several years, it's now possible for individual institutes to do some of these large sequencing projects," she said.

Once the institute opens on Friday, one of Dr. Rogers' key priorities will be to help breeders create new varieties of plants and animals to adapt to global warming.

"We are witnessing that the environment is changing and that's something that we need to be prepared for," she noted.

One of the BBSRC's strategic concerns will be boosting food production.

The future could hold food riots unless more money is found for agricultural research, according to predications made earlier this year by the research council's chief executive Douglas Kell.


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