Sleuthing of Plant Genes Speeds Ahead of
January 25, 1999
An ambitious international venture to reveal the structure of genes in a
cousin of mustard is racing about four years ahead of schedule. This means the
first essentially complete catalog of all genes in a typical plant's life
cycle, from seed to flower to fruit, may be completed next year.
The project aims at hastening the discovery of important genes in crop
plants. But it relies on a botanical "lab rat" named Arabidopsis
thaliana. This flowering plant has much less genetic material than corn,
tomatoes or wheat. But information about its genes should apply to thousands of
The scientists sleuthing the Arabidopsis genome originally estimated
they would finish by 2004, according to molecular biologist Athanasios
Theologis with the USDA's
Agricultural Research Service. He
leads Arabidopsis research at the
Plant Gene Expression Center
jointly operated in Albany, Calif., by ARS and the
University of California, Berkeley. ARS
is the USDAs chief scientific arm.
Theologis collaborates with scientists at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., and
the University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. Researchers at four other U.S. labs and in
Asia and Europe are also scrutinizing Arabidopsis' genetic material.
To date, the California and Pennsylvania scientists have identified the
structure of about 1,500 Arabidopsis genes. They have an estimated 6,000
left to decipher.
The researchers promptly post their new information on the Internet. That
databank also displays structural details of genes from other living things
including humans and mice. Scientists can scan the database for matches,
shortening the time it would take to uncover a gene's function.
Once plant biotechnologists discover the structure and function of a useful
gene--for example, one for disease resistance--they may move it into other
plants. An article in the January issue of Agricultural Research magazine
tells more. View it on the World Wide Web at:
Scientific contact: Athanasios Theologis, ARS/University of
California at Berkeley Plant Gene Expression Center, 800 Buchanan St., Albany,
CA 94710, phone (510) 559-5911, fax (510) 559-5678,