First plant genome completed

December 14, 2000

A multi-national research team reports the completion of the Arabidopsis genome in the December 14, 2000, issue of Nature.

With its small size, short generation time and compact genome, Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the mustard plant family, has become the primary model for the study of flowering plants in laboratories around the world. In 1996, an international collaboration, the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative, was formed to sequence and analyze the genome of this model plant.

"This landmark achievement means that every lab around the world working with Arabidopsis, as well as any other flowering plant, will be doing their science faster, easier and in a more thorough way," said Daphne Preuss, PhD, assistant professor of genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.

An extensive analysis of the whole-genome, including annotation of predicted genes and assignment of functional categories, analysis of chromosomal architecture and the distribution of transposable elements, and comparisons with other genomes, is presented with the publication of the sequences of chromosomes 1, 3, and 5. The sequences of chromosomes 2 and 4 were published in 1999.

The collaboration resulted in the creation of a community point of view and kept the labs with a biological orientation in touch with the sequencing labs. As data was obtained it was pooled and made available through the Internet in a useful form. The exchange of information resulted in consistent standards and nomenclature.

Preuss, Eliot M. Meyerowitz of the California Institute of Biology, and Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute, formed a standing committee under the auspices of the National Science Foundation to oversee the U.S. effort, pulling in ad hoc members as needed. Meyerowitz chaired the committee during the early stages. Preuss has been chairman for the last year and one half, seeing the project to completion. Chory will assume the chair at the beginning of 2001, overseeing the process of "adding value" to the genome--getting the most information from the project to the scientific community.

Midway through the effort, with the advancement of the technical aspects of sequencing, the committee oversaw acceleration of the project, which has been completed a full year ahead of the original goal.

Besides its importance to plant biologists, this work will have implications for agricultural science, evolutionary biology, and molecular medicine.

"This genome is 'complete' in a very meaningful way," said Preuss. "We have really high quality annotation accompanying the sequence data. We can assign genes to proteins and proteins to functional groups. We have a great deal of information about the nature of the DNA itself--the distribution of transposable elements, how the chromosomes line up with each other and how Arabidopsis compares to near relatives. We can start to think about evolution."

This work was supported by: National Science Foundation (NSF) Cooperative Agreements (funded by the NSF, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Energy), the Kazusa DNA Research Institute Foundation, and by the European Commission. With additional support from the USDA, Ministère de la Recherche, GSF-Forschungzentrum f. Umwelt u. Gesundheit, BMBF (Bundesministerium f. Bildung, Forschung und Technologie), BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), and Plant Research International, Wageningen.

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