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Stanford Report, September 30, 1998

Farm a nat'l center for plant genomics: 9/98

Stanford becoming a national center for plant genomics


Biochemistry professor Ronald W. Davis and Nancy A. Federspiel at the Stanford DNA Sequencing and Technology Center this month received an additional $12.6 million to finish deciphering the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard that is important in genetic studies of flowering plants.

This project, along with the newly announced Maize Genome Project and related genetic research at the department of biological sciences and Carnegie Institute at Stanford, have put Stanford at the forefront of plant genomics.

"We are working on science today that will be the foundation for agriculture in the 21st century," says Virginia Walbot, professor of biological sciences and director of the new corn project.

As mouse is to human, so Arabidopsis is to crop species. It is a model species that scientists have selected for study that is providing considerable insight into the working of more genetically complex plant species. Arabidopsis was selected in part because it has a relatively small genome, which makes it easy to work with. At the same time, it is closely related to cauliflower, cabbage and canola and shares many characteristics with commercial crop species.

Since 1996, Stanford researchers have been working with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Berkeley to sequence portions of the Arabidopsis genome. It is part of a multinational project involving six groups in four nations. The latest infusion of cash from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is designed to allow the group to complete the sequencing by the end of the year 2000.

According to the federal science agency, the Stanford/Penn/Berkeley consortium has proven extremely efficient in its sequencing efforts, operating with a high accuracy, accepting less than one inaccurate base in 10,000, and with a cost of $.40 to $.50 per base.

The information that the effort has produced so far has "already contributed new insights into the biology of flowering plants," according to Judith Verbeke, the NSF project manager. "What is learned from Arabidopsis is readily transferable to all plants. It is expected that the complete genome sequence information will revolutionize the field of plant biology," she wrote in an award abstract. SR