The Project

The Multinational Coordinated Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Research Project is an international scientific collaboration which began in 1990. Its stated goal was -- and remains -- to understand, at the molecular level, the physiology, biochemistry, growth, and development of a flowering plant. The project meets this goal through study of a typical flowering plant, the mustard Arabidopsis thaliana. Because it is typical, information gained from study of Arabidopsis can be applied to other flowering plants, such as those grown for food and fiber. Arabidopsis was chosen for study because it has many advantages for laboratory work, including small size, small genome size, numerous available mutations, and prolific seed production. The project was started by an international group of research scientists who recognized the need to coordinate the various national programs focusing on Arabidopsis research.


The goals and objectives of the project include gaining new insights into the fundamental biological nature of plants, developing new methods for the study of plants, and developing community resources that aid continued scientific progress.

Each year since 1990, an international group of scientists -- the Multinational Science Steering Committee -- has written a detailed report describing the progress of the previous year and listing goals and objectives for the new year. These reports were published and distributed widely by the U.S. National Science Foundation. This is the fourth such annual progress report. Its aim is to increase public awareness of the success the project has had in gaining a better understanding of plants and in applying this new knowledge to important problems in industry and agriculture.

Overview and Prospects

The Arabidopsis genome project has made possible an extraordinary string of scientific achievements including, for example, the first molecular identification of a plant hormone receptor, the first molecular analysis of a blue-light receptor, the first production of biodegradable plastic in transgenic plants, the first control of flower development using transgenic plants, and the first complete analysis of the cell patterns of roots. The Arabidopsis genome project is the world's leading source of new information on key aspects of plant growth, development, and metabolism. The excitement generated by rapid scientific progress has encouraged many students and experienced researchers from other fields to join the project. Consequently, the pace of discovery is accelerating.

The project's remarkable collaborative spirit and international character have made it a successful model for scientific cooperation. Participating scientists and scientific administrators come from Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. Continued commitment to the goals of the Arabidopsis genome project will lead to a more profound understanding of plants. This knowledge will be used to create new varieties and entirely new types of plants for human use.

Summary of Recent Progress

The project's goals fall into two categories -- promotion of scientific discovery and creation of an infrastructure that supports continued scientific success.

In 1994, scientific progress included breakthroughs in the understanding of plant hormones, plant development, and the interaction of plants with their environment. In this last area, striking progress was made in understanding how plants perceive and respond to light and how they defend themselves against bacterial attack. This new knowledge has already led to practical applications in industry and agriculture. Also, dramatic progress was made in the large-scale analysis of the Arabidopsis genome. Large numbers of gene transcripts were sequenced, major improvements were made in the genetic and physical maps of the chromosomes, and a systematic genomic sequencing effort started up.

Examples of research advances include:

These achievements depended on the concomitant improvement of the scientific infrastructure. New advances in this area include:

New Goals for 1995

The project's major new goal is to begin an international collaboration to systematically sequence the entire nuclear genome of Arabidopsis. This goal is feasible because the Arabidopsis genome is smaller than that of any other flowering plant and only five times larger than that of yeast, whose entire genome will be completely sequenced by next year. Meeting this goal is critical, because progress in understanding how genes function -- individually or in groups -- is held back by the lack of information on regulatory sequences and on the proteins coded by Arabidopsis genes.

Other goals include continuing the large-scale partial sequencing of DNAs complementary to gene transcripts, continuing genetic and biochemical experiments to uncover the function of individual genes, and expanding the support organization which enables rapid scientific progress.

In summary, specific goals for 1995 include: