Researchers trying to crack corn genome
Over 120 researchers have already used a Web database created to speed up development of biotech crops, says a trade group.
A trade group overseeing an effort to unlock corn's genetic code says more than 120 researchers have already used a Web database created to speed up development of biotech crops. The National Corn Growers Association said this week that the researchers, representing 35 academic institutions, accessed maize gene sequences catalogued in the database.
'There are only little pieces of gene sequences available in the public domain,' said Jo Messing, a professor of molecular biology at Rutgers University, who has used the database. 'The private collection offers a lot of those missing pieces.' The 8-month-old Web site pools research done on the corn genome by Monsanto Co., DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Monsanto research partner Ceres Inc.
By offering up their data to researchers at nonprofit institutions for noncommercial use, the companies hope to develop hybrid and genetically modified plants that are more drought-resistant or can produce more nutritious corn or fibers. The companies hope to sequence the corn genome by 2007, perhaps several years ahead of when it otherwise would be completed without the initiative.
Messing said the database now has roughly 1.8 million available gene sequences _ more than four times what was previously available publicly.
Land-grant universities including the University of Illinois and Oregon State University have accessed the site, as have overseas institutions including Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences and Germany's University of Hamburg. The Web site is developed and managed by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit research site near Monsanto's headquarters.
Scientists who want to use the database must register through the corn growers association and certify that they are conducting noncommercial work. They also must agree to provide license options for Monsanto, Pioneer and Ceres.
The companies will benefit from completion of the genome sequence at no additional cost. Government agencies and academic institutions are expected to foot the researchers' bills.
Researchers will publish their findings in scientific journals after the companies review the work and consider options for non-exclusive licensing deals. Each company likely would develop different products with various competitive advantages.
On the Net:
National Corn Growers Association, http://www.ncga.com
Corn-sequencing Web site, http://www.maizeseq.org
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