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ARS NEWS RELEASE: New Corn Genetics Center

USDA, Universities to Establish New Corn Genetics Center

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Ben Hardin, (309) 681-6597,
January 15, 1999

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15--Corn could become an even higher yielding food and feed
crop in the 21st century, now that U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists
and university collaborators are establishing a new maize genetics research

Eileen T. Kennedy, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and
Economics announced the center's establishment today. The center, in
facilities at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is being funded through a
five-year, $11.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"The new maize genetics research center will expand our scientists' capacity
to improve corn as a food and feed crop through harnessing biotechnology and
computers to crack the plant's genetic code," Kennedy said. "Corn has been
bred for millennia. Its improvement through hybridization is one of the
triumphs of agriculture in this century. Now, research at the new center
will help corn improvement take off again in the next century."

On Sunday, Jan. 17, Kennedy will speak at a workshop on federal funding of
plant genome research at the Plant and Animal Genome VII Conference, held
Jan. 17-21 in San Diego, Calif. More than 1,000 scientists and others from
around the country and the world have registered to attend. USDA is
co-sponsoring the conference along with universities and nonprofit and
industry groups.

"Genome" refers to the complete set of the genes of an organism. An
estimated 50,000 genes control corn's growth, development, yield and grain
qualities. "Maize" is the name used for corn worldwide.

The maize project includes collaboration among three scientists of USDA's
Agricultural Research Service at Columbia, Mo., with three colleagues at the
University of Missouri, and scientists at Clemson University and University
of Georgia. ARS geneticist Edward H. Coe, Jr., at ARS' Plant Genetics
Research Unit in Columbia envisions the project resulting in corn that:

* Is tailored to produce special food and industrial uses,
* Resists environmental stresses,
* Provides improved animal nutrition,
* Can be produced more efficiently with less agrichemical input, and
* Produces higher yields, so there will be less reliance on environmentally
fragile lands for adequate food supplies.

Besides the maize project, six other ARS scientists will participate with
university researchers in other genome research projects awarded NSF grants
totaling $31.6 million. NSF announced these grants, and others, in the fall
of 1998.

"We aim to keep U.S. leadership in genome research on the cutting edge,"
said Kennedy. "The grants will help ensure that large amounts of genetic
materials and information are shared throughout the research community after
they are developed by scientists in public institutions."

Coe and his University of Missouri colleagues first started working on an
informal maize genome map database in the 1970's. In 1991, USDA formalized
the database. By 2002, the scientists hope to develop a map containing
information on all the corn genes.

To detail the structure and function of maize genes, the scientists will
create and research a vast library of bacteria cell lines. Each cell line
will have a chromosome containing a different fragment of DNA from maize.

The researchers will organize a maize DNA database to help scientific
colleagues compare corn with sorghum, rice and other cereal grains. The
comparisons may lay groundwork for simultaneously improving the crops
through biotechnology.

Other ARS participation in the NSF-funded genome grants includes:

* In St. Paul, Minn., an ARS geneticist will help map corn genes in special
oat lines. Each line contains an additional chromosome from corn.
* Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and at the
ARS/University of California Plant Gene Expression Center (PGEC) in Albany,
Calif., are developing methods to make recombinant maize chromosomes in
rodent cell lines.
* ARS scientists at the PGEC and at Urbana, Ill., along with colleagues at
five universities, will help research mutations in corn caused by a mobile
genetic element called a transposon.
* An ARS-PGEC scientist is working with scientists at Stanford University
and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, to finish detailing the
structure of chromosome 1 of Arabidopsis thaliana. This small plant in the
mustard family is used as a "lab rat" for researching genes in other plants.
* At Ames, Iowa, an ARS geneticist will participate in research on the
structure and function of soybean genes.

Scientific contact: Edward H. Coe, Jr., ARS Plant Genetics Research Unit,
Columbia, Mo., phone (573) 882-2768, fax (573) 884-7850,
During the Plant and Animal Genome VII Conference, Coe may be reached from
Jan. 17-21 at the Town and Country Hotel, phone (619) 291-7131. The number
for the conference registration desk in the hotel's Atlas Foyer is (619)
291-7131, ext. 3939.
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