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molecular biologist Brian Scheffler examines robotic operations for automated
preparation of DNA-sequencing reactions. Click the image for more
information about it.
State-of-the-Art Technology Being Applied to
Agricultural Problems By
July 13, 2006
Armed with the latest high-tech research equipment, Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) scientists in
Mississippi are investigating the genetic secrets of catfish, cotton, soybeans
and other crops.
The goal of scientists at the ARS Mid South Area Genomics Laboratory
in Stoneville, Miss., is to improve these commodities by learning more about
their genetic makeup. The genomics lab was formed in 2000 to meet the genetic
sequencing needs of 14 research locations in five states.
Crops under study include cotton, soybeans, rice, sugarcane and
catfish. The genomics lab is part of the
Jamie Whitten Delta
States Research Center at Stoneville.
ARS computational molecular biologist
Scheffler, in the center's Catfish Genetics Research Unit (CGRU),
leads operations in the genomics lab. He uses high-throughput DNA sequencers,
robotics, bioinformatics computers, and other modern equipment to conduct
marker-assisted breeding. Scheffler helps researchers use the lab to tap into
the genetic information of whatever species they might be studying in order to
find solutions to agricultural problems.
Schiff of USDA's Forest Service examines an adult specimen of Sirex
noctilio. DNA from the adult is used to confirm identity of larvae in
infested trees. Click the image for more information about
To identify the gene responsible for a certain feature or trait,
researchers use genetic landmarks known as DNA markers, which can be a gene or
a section of DNA with no known function. The markers can tell them roughly
where a particular gene is located on a chromosome. When a DNA marker is
associated with a physical trait, such as disease resistance, this helps guide
breeders to more effectively add, delete or modify desirable traits in farm
crops or animals.
Working with the genomics lab, one CGRU researcher has adapted a
bacterial artificial chromosome, or BAC, DNA fingerprinting technique for
high-throughput genetic analysis. This will be helpful in constructing a
physical map that will aid identification of genes affecting catfish production
traits and could one day contribute to determining the catfish genome.
ARS researchers in Houma, La., are using the marker technology and the
genomics laboratory's high-throughput technology to help develop new sugarcane
varieties by showing which seeds are the result of cross-breeding experiments
and which were self-pollinated. The laboratory has also been instrumental in
determining 70,000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from upland cotton. These
short sequences of DNA greatly reduce the time required to locate a specific
gene and will help in the identification of genes important in cotton fiber
more about the research in the July 2006 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's principal scientific research agency.