GENET archive


GENES: Corn-genome sequencing may lead to increased global production

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------


SOURCE: Bloomberg, USA

AUTHOR: Tony C. Dreibus & William Freebairn


DATE:   12.07.2007

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July 12 (Bloomberg) -- Corn production, as well as the crop’s resistance to disease, pests and drought, may increase within three years because researchers in Mexico have sequenced the grain’s genome.

Scientists at the National Genomics for Biodiversity Laboratory, in Mexico City, made a rough blueprint of the genome of a Mexican variety of corn, the country’s Agriculture Ministry said this week.

The breakthrough may lead to increased production because scientists can use the information to develop corn varieties resistant to bugs and diseases or capable of thriving when water is scarce. Farmers should have more-resistant corn within three years, seven years sooner than would have been possible without the research, Agriculture Minster Alberto Cardenas said.

”It’s a way to figure out what causes diseases and how we can use different genetic tools to find resistances,” said Nathan Fields, the director of research and business development for the U.S. National Corn Growers Association, in St. Louis, in a telephone interview yesterday. ”This offers the opportunity to switch on the plant’s inherent capabilities.”

The sequencing of genes involves mapping the order of nucleotide bases, or organic molecules that serve as a genetic alphabet, in genetic material. Corn has 1.9 billion bases, said Alfredo Herrera Estrella, the primary investigator at the Mexico City laboratory, compared with 3 billion in humans.


Error Reduction

To reduce errors in the sequencing of microscopic bases, scientists use methods to take more samples of bases than needed. The scientists in Mexico City sampled, on average, four times the number of nucleotide bases in the genetic material.

Information from the gene map will be shared with a network of Mexican researchers working on crop improvements, Herrera Estrella said. The information could be used to devise transgenic strains of the crop, although Mexican law bars genetically modified corn, he said.

Researchers with the U.S. Agriculture Department, the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. National Science Foundation are sampling 10 times the number of nucleotide bases in corn to get a more-detailed map of the genome, Fields at the corn-growers group said.

The accomplishment in Mexico is a ”very important contribution to science,” said Sarah Hake, the director of a U.S. Agriculture Department research center in Albany, California, who has studied and mapped genes in several species of corn. ”It’s not as easy to do science in Mexico. They found a novel way to do this quickly.”



The sequencing in Mexico cost about 600 million pesos ($55.3 million), the Agriculture Ministry said. The project took more than two years.

”We’re proud that this project was completed not only by a single country, but by a single laboratory,” he said in a telephone interview from the state of Guanajuato. ”We knew when we started that there were efforts under way in the U.S., but we felt we needed to do this for the country.”

Corn was domesticated in pre-Columbian times, and has been a staple of the Mexican diet for more than 5,000 years, according to Sophie D. Coe’s 1994 book ”America’s First Cuisines.”

The price of corn tortillas, an everyday food, jumped 5.9 percent in January, sparking inflation and pushing down the international value of the peso. Tortilla prices were capped in April at 8.5 pesos (78 cents) a kilogram to control inflation.

Corn futures for December delivery rose 40 percent in the past year, reaching a 10-year high of $4.5025 on Feb. 26 on the Chicago Board of Trade, partly because of increased demand for ethanol, the grain-based fuel additive. Global supplies are forecast to fall to 91.8 million tons by Aug. 31, 2008, the lowest since 1984, the U.S. Agriculture Department said.

The research may help companies -- including Tyson Foods Inc., Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. -- that use corn to make foodstuffs and alternative fuels.



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