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Separating good from bad

New technology decodes corn genomes quicker to bring better hybrids to market.

The process of unlocking the corn plant's complex genetic code will become easier with a new technology called GeneThresher. Developed by Orion Genomics, the new technology accelerates the process of gene discovery and analysis.

The result should bring new plant technology to the market faster. Seed companies will be able to purchase information from the corn gene database developed by GeneThresher and use it to find the important genes controlling characteristics such as yield and develop enhanced products.

Unraveling 2.5 billion pairs. The genetic coding for a corn plant is enormous with roughly 2.5 billion base pairs, making it nearly as complex as a human's genetic code. However, the majority of the genes are repeats and are considered "junk" DNA. About 8% of the pairs are the important genes with coding and regulating duties.

The major genes and the repeats are different chemically, according to John McPherson with Orion. GeneThresher acts as a filter and separates the major genes from the repeats, leaving about 400,000 important gene pairs. This is a more manageable number for scientists to examine and decode. McPherson says it also costs considerably less to work with that smaller number. The company estimates that gene discovery using GeneThresher costs just one-tenth the amount that other current gene discovery methods require.

Many companies have been using Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) for genetic coding. EST avoids the junk DNA, too, but only identifies 70% of all the important genes, McPherson says. EST will find the coded genes, but not the genes that regulate DNA.

More new products. Cheaper and faster gene discovery with GeneThresher will lead to more new products, according to Orion.

"The genomes of many complex organisms, particularly the major agricultural crop species, represent enormous opportunities for product discovery," reports Richard Wilson, CEO of Orion. "But many of these important genomes have been out of reach of even the largest product discovery programs due to the enormous costs involved in whole genome sequencing."

Orion also is using GeneThresher on soybeans, canola and wheat. As the work continues, Orion will develop databases of the genes and offer other companies subscriptions to them to enhance their research efforts.

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