Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and colleagues have produced several online bioinformatics resources to support plant breeders and other scientists who research genetic traits among plant species. Bioinformatics is a field of science in which biology, computer science and information technology merge to form a single discipline.

ARS investigators Doreen Ware, Edward Buckler, Michael McMullen, James Holland and university colleagues produced Panzea, an online bioinformatics resource on maize diversity with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation. Buckler and Ware are with ARS units in Ithaca, N.Y.; McMullen in Columbia, Mo.; and Holland in Raleigh, N.C. Panzea contains millions of data points, providing access to genotype, phenotype and polymorphism data.

Maize is a diverse crop species. On average, two different maize lines can be as genetically different as a human and a chimpanzee. A key aspect of the program is identifying chromosomal regions at which exotic maize lines possess genes with agronomic effects superior to those carried in Corn Belt lines.

Panzea is available at: http://www.panzea.org.

Another genomics database supports blueberry breeders who are generating plants that can adapt to a wide range of soils, climates and harvests. Blueberry is now a major berry crop and sales are rising quickly, according to industry experts.

ARS plant geneticist Jeannine Rowland and colleagues produced the online blueberry genomics database, which is called the BBGD.

The researchers are with the ARS Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. They have identified gene sequences and molecular markers of horticultural significance in blueberry. That information is available through the BBGD for marker-assisted breeding and transformation.

The database provides key information on gene expression related to a cultivar's ability to acclimate and survive during cold winters — a critical step to good summer yields. The BBGD is available at: http://psi081.ba.ars.usda.gov/bbgd/index.htm.