Agriculture in the Genomics Age

IOWA - Two of the hottest areas of science and technology today involve agriculture – the genomic mapping of plant and animal species and the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels.

What does this say about the future of U.S. agriculture? For starters, agriculture is right at the forefront of important research and stands to benefit tremendously.

While genomics (the study of genes and their functions) and renewable fuels are two distinct fields, there are some connections. At Iowa State University, a $1.25 million IBM supercomputer labeled BlueGene is being used to sequence the corn genome.

The genome is a complete set of an organism’s genetic material – the sum total of all the information in cells that determines whether we are human or a corn plant. All that information is derived from studying the arrangement of DNA and genes.

Even with the aid of this supercomputer it will take scientists about three years to sequence the corn genome. The results could lead to the development of corn varieties that yield more ethanol or produce better biodegradable plastics or tolerate drought better.

Iowa State researchers consider the corn genome one of the most complex sequencing projects to date. In 2005, the rice genome was mapped and projects are under way to sequence soybeans and sheep.

One of the most recent announcements was a project to map the swine genome. Two University of Illinois researchers will head it up, and like the Iowa State project, it is a collaborative effort with researchers at other universities.

Mapping the swine genome will lead to better animal health and management and more nutritious meat products, but it could yield much more. According to the University of Illinois, “Because the pig and human genomes are similar in size, complexity and organization, researchers expect comparisons will lead to biomedical advances, including pig-to-human transplants and disease treatments.“

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation
calendar icon 20 February 2006
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