The UA research team was led by Rod Wing, who has a key role in BIO5's Genome Structure and Function Consortium. Wing's group developed the framework for and contributed significantly to the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP).
"Rice is the most important food crop in the world, feeding half the population," said Wing, a professor in the department of plant sciences at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Demand is expected to double in 50 years, so we need to learn all we can about rice. The genetic sequence is the beginning of that."
Plant scientists will use the new knowledge to improve rice varieties. For example, they can now exactly pin down genes linked to desirable properties such as crop yield, drought tolerance and pest resistance. An important goal is to place newly identified, advantageous genes into regional rice varieties that are adapted to certain regions and growth conditions.
Rice is the first crop plant whose genome has been fully mapped and sequenced. The published data represent what scientists call a finished sequence: It reveals a comprehensive picture of the DNA codes and positions of all the genes in the rice genome. At the same time, it is one of the most accurate and complete genome sequences obtained from a higher (i.e. multicellular) organism. The finished sequence reveals that the 12 chromosomes of the rice plant hold some 37,500 genes. A chromosome is a compact bundle consisting of a long, thread-like DNA molecule wrapped tightly around special packaging proteins to allow for storage in a cell's nucleus. The rice genome contains about 7,500 more genes than the human genome.