Completing the First Plant Genome Sequence

Image: Courtesy of the National Science Foundation

After four years of collaboration, an international team of researchers has completed the first genome sequence of a plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. A flowering weed in the mustard family, A. thaliana, or thale crest, does not itself hold agricultural or pharmaceutical value. But to scientists, it stands as a model organism, like the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, with a compact genome and a short generation time--an ideal representative of the 250,000 other flowering plants on our planet. As such, "the completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequence has profound implications for human health as well as plant biology and agriculture," team member Robert Martienssen of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory observes. The researchers describe the fruits of their labor today in the journal Nature.

The scientific consortium, called the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative, finished sequencing two of the plant's chromosomes last year. Today's reports describe the other three. A. thaliana research has already shown researchers how to protect certain plants from cold and disease, for example. The availability of the full genome, however, should yield countless other insights. "Today¿s news of the genome sequence completing," National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell says, "could well mark the beginning of a whole new plant genomics industry."

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