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First-ever complete plant genome sequence is announced

International team reveals DNA secrets of Arabidopsis thaliana

Genetics reached a major milestone today as an international research team announced it has completed the first plant genome sequence. The species Arabidopsis thaliana has emerged as the plant counterpart of the laboratory mouse, offering clues to how all sorts of living organisms behave genetically, with potentially widespread applications for agriculture, medicine and energy.

This achievement, by a consortium of scientists called the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI), becomes public on the cover of the journal Nature's December 14 issue, which includes four articles describing how researchers sequenced the entire genome of this weed in the mustard family. Because it is a model for over 250,000 other plant species, Arabidopsis is yielding insights that scientists are already applying to make other plants easier to grow under adverse conditions and healthier to eat.

The AGI's international team coalesced in 1996 to begin sequencing the Arabidopsis genome. The sequence of chromosomes 2 and 4 was reported in 1999, and today chromosomes 1, 3 and 5 were announced as complete. (For a list of the individuals who contributed to the main article in Nature's December 14, 2000 issue, see http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/2000/agicontrib.htm.)

For the once-humble Arabidopsis, simplicity is truly a virtue. Its entire genome consists of a relatively small set of genes that dictate when the weed will bud, bloom, sleep or seed. Those functional genes have their counterparts in plants with much larger genomes, such as wheat, corn, rice, cotton and soybean. Unlike the human genome, Arabidopsis has few "junk" DNA sequences that contain no genes.

The plant is practical for scientists because it matures quickly, is small and reproduces abundantly. All these physical
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Contact: Tom Garritano
tgarrita@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
11-Dec-2000


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