NSF PR 02-75 - September 20, 2002
NSF Funds $10.2M Maize Gene Sequencing Push
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces today
the award of $10.2 million over two years to two projects
for initial sequencing of the Zea mays (maize
or corn) genome.
One project will be led by investigators at the Donald
Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, who will
collaborate with coworkers at The Institute for Genomic
Research, Rockville, Md. The other project will be
led by investigators at Rutgers University, who will
collaborate with coworkers at the University of Arizona.
The Rutgers University team includes international
collaborators from France's Genoscope and Germany's
Munich Information Center for Protein Sequences.
"This project will give us the first snapshot view
of the sequence organization of the maize genome,"
said Mary Clutter, the Assistant Director for Biological
Sciences at NSF. "It will pave the way for future
whole genome sequencing efforts. It will also be the
model for sequencing other large complex genomes."
Together these projects will test two methods for selecting
the fraction of the maize genome containing the genes,
produce sequence of about 20 million base pairs of
maize DNA, and assemble this information into a high-resolution
genome map. New data generated in this project will
dramatically increase the level of detail of the current
low-resolution map of the maize genome. The increase
in resolution is the difference between looking at
a city map that shows only the major thoroughfares
and a map that shows every street. Together, the outcomes
will be the first step in sequencing the whole maize
The maize genome offers a new sequencing challenge
because its size and structure preclude use of the
standard whole-genome methods currently used. At about
2 billion base pairs, the maize genome is estimated
to be 20 times larger than Arabidopsis, the
first complete plant genome to be sequenced. However,
maize probably has only twice as many genes as Arabidopsis.
The rest of the maize genome is made up of a large
amount of highly repetitive DNA including many mobile
DNA elements. Unlike Arabidopsis genes, the maize
genes are not spaced evenly throughout the genome
but instead are clustered in "islands" floating in
this large "sea" of repeat DNA.
Together, the two projects will develop the tools needed
to undertake large-scale sequencing of maize and will
point the way to cost-effective sequencing of other
large complex genomes. The resulting sequence data
from both projects will be immediately deposited into
public databases such as GenBank.
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