Work on cereal crop genomes is ahead of schedule

Detailed genome maps of the cereal crops maize and sorghum are thought to be at least three years away. But Agricultural Research Service computational biologist Doreen Ware believes scientists shouldn’t have to wait that long for these maps.

Ware, based at the ARS U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., and colleagues are trying to give researchers a head start on these studies by supplementing what’s currently known about the genetic makeup of sorghum and maize with data from the genome map of rice. Rice, the first crop to be almost fully genetically sequenced, is a relative of the two cereal crops. However, the genomes of maize and sorghum will take longer to complete because they are large and complex, compared to the rice genome.

Ware is enhancing data already in the public domain to highlight points of similarity between the genomes of each crop. She’s working with collaborators at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on New York’s Long Island, Texas A&M and Purdue universities, and the University of Missouri.

According to Ware, the study will add to knowledge of genome organization and the evolutionary relationship between three agronomically important crops. Researchers will also develop methods for building and finishing comparative maps that can be applied to future genome-scale projects.

Ultimately, the project may help scientists and growers identify genes responsible for traits that will lead to stronger, more nutritious crops. She has received a $1.3-million “Young Investigators” award from the National Science Foundation for this study.

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