NCGA announces completion of draft corn genome

The National Corn Growers Association announced a group of scientific organizations and private companies has completed a draft of the corn genome, the first mapping of the corn genome in the world.

NCGA officials, who announced the breakthrough at the Commodity Classic in Nashville, said the National Science Foundation Plant Genome program dedicated three years and $30 million to achieve the goal of gaining a better understanding of the corn plant’s DNA.

“Valuable data provided by Ceres, Inc., Monsanto Co., and DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred over several years was made available to researchers through NCGA’s MaizeSeq program,” the Corn Growers said in a press release. “This database of pooled knowledge provided a comprehensive resource to researchers while the NSF program was under way.”

Completion of the maize genome sequence will increase breeding efficiency, streamline the delivery of new traits as well as further the recognition and understanding of traits that will enhance corn’s position as the ideal crop for food, feed, fuel and industrial uses.

This sequencing information has the ability to benefit existing and future research for the U.S. corn industry, said Joachim Messing, director of the Waksman Institute and a professor of molecular biology at Rutgers University.

“Successfully sequencing the maize genome will have a phenomenal impact on agriculture and agricultural productivity,” said William S. Niebur, DuPont vice president, Crop Genetics Research and Development.

“An enhanced understanding of the corn genome structure and function will allow us to more effectively explore the exclusive Pioneer germplasm galaxy and create a step-change in our corn research program to produce better hybrids more quickly and reliably.”

The contribution of the three companies helped maintain and accelerate momentum in the scientific community, as geneticists worked to continue their research and utilize the private data as a comparison point with the public releases by the NSF.

The data will remain valuable as a comparative sequence to further understand the intricacies of the maize genome and represents a key resource for understanding the functionality of all the genes in corn.

“This sequencing sharing agreement builds on the center’s leadership role in the NSF-sponsored Maize Genomics Consortium currently evaluating and validating a gene-enrichment strategy,” said Robert Rose, director of public relations and government affairs at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.

“We are proud of our role in housing the MaizeSeq database at the Danforth Center, which is administered and maintained by Center Principal Investigator Dr. Brad Barbazuk.”

The NCGA said the next milestones are to finish putting the draft sequence together into a contiguous data set, then work to better understand the functionality of all the genes in corn to enable new discoveries and extract the plant’s full potential.

“The completion of a maize draft sequence is the first step in determining the function of all the genes in corn, which in turn, will allow corn growers to plant corn hybrids that are better able to withstand drought and other stresses and are better suited to market and environmental needs,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer.

“Consumers will benefit from a more nutritious, abundant and sustainable food supply.”

“This is a significant accomplishment in the advancement of corn technology research and development,” said Robert Fraley, chief technology officer and executive vice president for Monsanto.

“As our population grows, and we look to help farmers meet the growing demands for food, feed and fuel, this important milestone will facilitate development of higher yielding hybrids and the successful addition of increasingly complex technology like drought tolerance and nitrogen utilization to get more out of each acre of corn.”

This project underscores NCGA’s continued commitment to advancements through research, Litterer noted. NCGA took a leading role in getting the Plant Genome Initiative signed into law in 1997 and continues to support this important effort. Today’s announcement emphasizes that commitment.

“This project represents the best in public-private partnerships, and we’re pleased to know that the extensive corn sequence data we provided will not only be extraordinarily useful in helping to interpret the genome sequence, but will also be made broadly available to academic and public institutions in the United States and beyond,” said Richard Hamilton, chief executive of energy crop company Ceres, Inc.

“Genomics-based technologies are playing a critical role in improving agricultural crops for food, feed, fiber, and now fuels, and this type of project helps ensure that farmers will continue to see improvements in productivity, yield stability and reduced inputs.”

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