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Biotech firms team up on corn gene sequencing

The National Corn Growers Association announced that three biotech firms will begin sharing their maize or corn genome sequence data. The action by Ceres Inc., Monsanto Co., and DuPont subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., is expected to provide a considerable boost to efforts to accelerate the identification of genes within the entire corn genome, according to the NCGA.

The data will be available to research scientists through a searchable database on the Web. The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a not-for-profit research institute, will host the data. To gain access to the data, scientists must complete a licensing agreement that will be downloadable on the NCGA Web site,

With the availability of sequencing data from Ceres, DuPont and Monsanto, the corn genome could be completely sequenced by 2007, potentially years ahead of when it would have been completed without this initiative, the Corn Growers Association said.

“The sharing of these data will pave the way toward future improvements in corn that hold great promise for corn growers and consumers around the globe,” said Gary Davis, chairman of NCGA's Research and Business Development Action Team. “We would like to build on this momentum to develop a broader coalition that supports this important effort.”

NCGA believes completion of the maize genome sequence will increase breeding efficiency, streamline the delivery of new traits, allow the discovery and enhancement of properties such as drought tolerance and further the recognition and understanding of traits that will enhance corn's position as the ideal crop for food, feed, fuel and industrial uses. Leaders from the NCGA and the companies involved believe this sequencing information has the ability to benefit existing and future research for the U.S. corn industry.

Pioneer concurs

Leaders at Pioneer, the world's largest seed company, agree. “Henry Wallace founded Pioneer in 1926 with the sole purpose of increasing the value farmers get on each harvested acre,” said Jim Miller, vice president, Crop Genetics Research & Development.

“One of the most effective ways to increase value is to discover and develop top performing seed. Sharing our corn genome sequence data to further public understanding of this important crop will allow farmers even more choices in improved plant genetics in the future.”

“Ceres was founded to apply genomics technologies to crop improvement,” said Richard Hamilton, president and CEO of Ceres. “Allowing public researchers to access this sequence information will significantly enhance the rate of discovery and crop improvement.”

Such discovery and crop improvement echoes Monsanto's commitment to facilitate and encourage research of corn. “Monsanto is proud to support corn research through this collective agreement,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer. “This is a concrete example of our strength in genomics research and involvement in sharing scientific knowledge within the agricultural research community to help support the U.S. growers' continued success in the global marketplace.”

This project underscores NCGA's continued commitment to advancements through research, said the NCGA's Davis. “NCGA took a leading role in getting the Plant Genome Initiative signed into law in 1997 and continues to support this important effort. Today's announcement reinforces that commitment.”

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