A genetics company and a leading agribusiness have created the first genome map of a rice plant.

Torrey Mesa Research Institute, the genomics research center of Syngenta and Myriad Genetics, Inc., made the announcement in January.

The rice genome map will be used by plant breeders to select the best progeny from breeding crosses and to identify and transfer individual genes from one rice variety to another. This way, discrete improvements can be made without mixing all the genes from two rice varieties.

According to Syngenta, “Understanding cereal genomics will accelerate our ability to breed crops that are more nutritious, more productive and easier to process. We may also find new ways to protect crops from diseases or pests and discover new uses for crop plants.”

The company will make the genome map available to researchers through collaborative agreements. In the developing world, Syngenta plans to work with local research institutes to explore how the information can best be used to find crop improvements to benefit subsistence farmers. “It is our policy to provide such information and technology for use in products for subsistence farmers without royalties or technology fees,” a news release stated.

Rice is the first crop plant genome to be sequenced. The maps contains the DNA sequence of every gene; the regulatory DNA sequences that surround the genes; the linear order of the genes along every chromosome and correspondence between the genome map and the plant breeder's map of inherited traits. The rice genome sequence is approximately 99.5 percent complete.

The discovery is also significant because the rice genome is a model for all the cereal grains and could lead to improvements in corn, wheat and barley.

According to Syngenta, the introduction of new rice varieties over the past 30 years has doubled rice production. But over the next 30 years, demand for rice in Asia alone is projected to increase by 70 percent. Current methods of hybrid selection from plant breeding will not be able to meet all this demand.

Rice is a staple food for over 3 billion people. In Southeast Asia, rice provides 80 percent of the caloric intake. Asia accounts for 90 percent of the world's harvested rice area and 92 percent of the total world production. Global consumption of rice increases by an average of 2 percent per year.


E-mail: elton-robinson@intertec.com.