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Date: Jan. 8, 2001
From: The Scientist(Vol. 15, Issue 1)
Publisher: Scientist Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,555 words

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Completed project opens new doors for plant biologists

Headlines on the morning of December 14, 2000, trumpeted the end of a presidential election that promised to go on forever. But if California Institute of Technology molecular biologist Elliot Meyerowitz had his way, the front page would have read differently: "Plant Genome Sequenced" at the top, then, lower down, "Election Decided - See Page 2."

In a tour de force that capped a year of genome blockbusters, European, Japanese, and American scientists completed the DNA sequences of chromosomes 1, 3, and 5 of "the little mustard that could," Arabidopsis thaliana. Announced in four papers in a much-awaited issue of Nature,[1-4] the sequences joined those from chromosomes 2 and 4 published a year ago,[5,6] completing a four-year effort "to understand all the genes in the organism," according to Meyerowitz. While true understanding is still years away, it was a landmark anyway: the first complete genome of a flowering plant. Together with a working draft of rice and the genomes of fruit fly, round worm, humans, and lots of microorganisms, the Arabidopsis sequence adds to an ever-growing handbook of life's genetic instructions.

Irreverently dubbed "the weed," Arabidopsis' relatively small nuclear genome (about 125 million base pairs), diminutive size, and short generation time (about six weeks from seed germination to seed set) make it ideal to study everything plants do, from hormone signaling and flowering to defense against pests. According to Mary Clutter, assistant director at the National Science Foundation in charge of the Directorate for Biological Sciences, the project came in "years ahead of time and on budget."

The completed genome promises practical fallout. For one thing, the full list of 25,498 genes provides an invaluable resource to improve agriculture. The list is probably comparable between all flowering plants. It's most immediately relevant, however, to other members of the mustard family such as canola, an important source of vegetable oil. Recent results reinforce this optimism.

A team of researchers led by Martin Yanofsky of the University of California-San Diego in La Jolla, recently described two genes, SHP 1 and SHP 2, that control fruit shattering in Arabidopsis.[7] Normally, Arabidopsis pods shatter at maturity, liberating the enclosed seeds. Yanofsky's group blocked the process by disabling both genes. Canola farmers lose as much as 50 percent of their crop to shattering, so genetic...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A69697899