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Photo: Wheat. Link to photo information
GrainGenes, a website managed by ARS scientists, contains information about the structure and function of thousands of genes in small grains, including wheat like the one shown here. Click the image for more information about it.

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GrainGenes Website Speeds Gene Discovery

By Marcia Wood
May 20, 2008

Even though there's much about wheat that's familiar and ordinary, one feature of this ancient crop—its genetic makeup—remains relatively unknown. In fact, the everyday wheat plant doesn't just have one genome; it has several. In all, wheat's genetic makeup is gargantuan and complex. And it isn't yielding easily to scientists' probing.

To help accelerate discovery of this familiar crop's mostly unfamiliar genes, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Albany, Calif., and Ithaca, N.Y., developed GrainGenes. This specialized website provides some of the newest and best research information for a range of viewers interested in wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale.

For example, it offers content useful not only to those who are investigating the structure and function of cereal crop genes, but also to those who carry out traditional crop breeding to develop superior plants for tomorrow.

Located on the Web at, GrainGenes garners enthusiastic repeat visits from researchers worldwide. That's because the site is comprehensive, user-friendly and packed with interesting, helpful information.

Olin D. Anderson, research leader of the ARS Genomics and Gene Discovery Research Unit, along with plant geneticist Gerard R. Lazo and bioinformaticist David E. Matthews, manage GrainGenes. Anderson and Lazo are based at the Western Regional Research Center in Albany. Matthews works in Ithaca.

This ongoing assignment includes collating, cross-indexing and curating the more than 2 million pages that make up the site. Every business day, the team adds "need-to-know" text and graphics, including findings from the research team's own laboratories.

Read more about this research in the May/June 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.