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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 02-75 - September 20, 2002

Media contact:

 Manny Van Pelt

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Jane Silverthorne

 (703) 292-7171

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 genome.

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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