A geneticist examines sugar beet plants grown for
rapid seed production and accelerated breeding of recombinant inbred lines.
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New Breed of Beet Geneticists Unraveling
Sugar Beet Genome By
A "new guard" of geneticists at the
Agricultural Research Service is leading
a genetic revolution in the sugar beet industry, with funding from the Beet
Sugar Development Foundation (BSDF) of
Denver, Colo. During the past decade, the ARS scientists have been changing
their breeding strategy from trait-based to gene-based selection, and in the
past five years have begun a project to map the sugar beet genome.
The ARS group is one of just a few in the world and the only one
in the United States working on the sugar beet genome. The group includes J.
Mitchell McGrath, who heads a research team at the ARS
Sugar Beet and Bean Research
Unit at East Lansing, Mich.; plant pathologist John Weiland at ARS'
Sugar Beet and Potato Research Unit
at Fargo, N.D.; plant geneticist Leonard Panella of ARS'
Sugar Beet Research Unit at Fort
Collins, Colo.; and Robert Lewellen, plant geneticist at ARS'
Crop Improvement and
Protection Research Unit at Salinas, Calif.
Already, McGrath's group and two independent groups in Germany
have deposited more than 20,000 ESTs (expressed sequence tags) into the
National Center for Biotechnology
site. These tags identify probably one-third to one-half of the 30,000 genes
thought to make up the functional part of the sugar beet genome.
McGrath worked with Weiland and a contract firm to package a BAC
(bacterial artificial chromosomes) "library." This type of "library" uses safe
strains of bacteria to store sugar beet DNA. These sequences are then either
screened with genetic markers, or compared with sequences of known genes, to
connect them to possible traits. Each clone in the library of 38,400 cloned
bacteria stores a different DNA sequence from the sugar beet's genome. Panella
and Lewellen also collaborated on the library.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and the BSDF, ARS is charged with developing basic germplasm
lines and releasing them to the foundation, for distribution to BSDF
about the research in the April issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is USDA's chief
scientific research agency.