Brussels, 12 August 2005
Scientists from the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), have completed the first map of the rice genome, a development which they say should allow agriculturalists to increase rice yields, protect crops against disease and pests, and provide drought-resistance in rice and other cereal crops, helping to alleviate hunger around the world.
Rice is one of the world's most important food crops, accounting for 20 per cent of the world's dietary energy supply and the main food source for over 3 billion human beings. Moreover, rice is genetically similar to maize, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum and sugarcane, so the research could also help scientists to understand other vital food crops.
'This is a breakthrough of inestimable significance, not only for science and agriculture but also for all those people who depend on rice as their primary dietary staple,' says Joachim Messing, one of the authors of the research published in Nature magazine. He describes the rice genome as 'the Rosetta Stone of all the bigger grass genomes'.
The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), a consortium of publicly funded laboratories, was established in 1997 to obtain a high quality, map-based sequence of the rice genome using the cultivar Nipponbare of Oryza sativa ssp. japonica. Lead by Japan, it currently has nine further members: the United States, China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Thailand, France, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
The IRGSP has worked according to the clone-by-clone shotgun sequencing strategy, so that each sequenced clone can be associated with a specific position on the genetic map. Researchers identified all 37,544 genes in rice and establish the position of each gene on rice's 12 chromosomes. They have announced the identification of some particularly important genes that might increase yield and productivity.
The consortium says the implications are enormous, simply because rice is so essential to so many people. Population growth in the developing world and consumption trends suggest that rice is set to become even more important, with 4.6 billion people reliant on it by 2025, meaning that, to keep up with demand, rice production will have to grow by around 30 per cent. Moreover, global warming may mean that in the future, rice will need to be more robust in the face of droughts.
The IGPR adheres to the policy of immediate release of the sequence data to the public domain. To download the full text of the Nature Journal paper, please visit: http:///www.nature.com/natur e/journal/v43 6/n7052/full/nature03895.html Remarks: Reference document: The map-based sequence of the rice genome p793 International Rice Genome Sequencing Project. Nature 436, 793-800, 11 August 2005.