Genome Coup Opens Door to New
Discoveries By Marcia Wood
December 13, 2000
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13--Now that the history-making venture
to decipher the structure of nearly all the genes in a little mustard family
plant called thale cress or mouse ear cress is complete, plant researchers are
intent on finding out what job each of those 25,000 genes performs.
This remarkable accomplishment," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan
Glickman, may pave the way for increasing agricultural productivity by
improving crop yields and quality to help maintain a global food supply while
protecting the environment.
Among the investigators who are pursuing that ambitious goal is
Athanasios Theologis, a senior scientist with USDAs Agricultural Research Service in
Albany, Calif., and adjunct professor at the University of California,
Berkeley. Theologis co-authored one of several research papers in the December
14 issue of the journal Nature that document his team's
success--and that of co-investigators--in elucidating the structure, or
"sequence," of all of the genes in the diminutive plant known to botanists as
Arabidopsis thaliana. Researchers finished the project three years ahead
Theologis is based at the
Plant Gene Expression Center,
which is jointly operated by ARS and the
University of California. The
Arabidopsis sequencing work is considered to be the first complete,
publicly available catalog of the structure of all of the genes that come into
play during the life of a flowering plant--from seed to flower to fruit.
Scientists hope to discover the traits that these genes control,
such as resistance to attack by insects or diseases. Once those genes are
identified, scientists may be able to shuttle them into plants that lack
natural protection, or they may be able to retool the genes to enhance their
Arabidopsis has been the guinea pig for these
gene-sequence investigations because it has a much smaller amount of genetic
material than familiar crop plants such as corn or wheat. Knowing the structure
and--next--the function of Arabidopsis genes helps reveal clues to the
form and function of genes in all flowering plants, as well as genes of other
forms of life.
Theologis worked with scientists at
Stanford University and at the
University of Pennsylvania to determine the
sequence of the genes of one of the five chromosomes in Arabidopsis.
Other investigators in the United States, Europe, and Japan sequenced the four
other Arabidopsis chromosomes. USDAs
Cooperative State Research, Education and
Extension Service helped fund the work.
Scientific contacts: Athanasios Theologis, ARS and
University of California at Berkeley Plant Gene Expression Center, Albany,
Calif., phone (510) 559-5911, fax (510) 559-5678,
Leland C. Ellis, Jr., ARS National
Program Staff, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-4788, fax (301) 504- 4725,