WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers have sequenced the gene map of corn, also known as maize, a key crop across much of the world and a source of food, oil and products ranging from shoe polish to ethanol.
They said their sequence, to be released at a meeting in Washington on Thursday, would help plant scientists improve varieties of corn and other cereal crops, including rice, wheat and barley.
“Scientists now will be able to accurately and efficiently probe the corn genome to find ways to improve breeding and subsequently increase crop yields and resistance to drought and disease,” Richard Wilson of Washington University in St. Louis, whose team led the effort, said in a statement.
The effort to sequence the entire gene map of corn has cost $29.5 million, funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Corn is one of the most economically important crops for our nation,” National Science Foundation director Arden Bement said in a statement.
“Completing this draft sequence of the corn genome constitutes a significant scientific advance and will foster growth of the agricultural community and the economy as a whole.”
The sequence information is in GenBank, a freely available online public DNA database, and at maizesequence.org.
“The genome will help unravel the basic biology of corn. That information can be used to look for genes that make corn more nutritious or more efficient for ethanol production, for example,” said Ralph Quatrano, chairman of Washington University’s Department of Biology.
The only other crop plant to have its genome sequenced is rice.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Beech