Researchers from the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) completed a sequence of the rice genome that will help become a key resource to improve the nutritional quality and productivity of rice.

“Rice is a staple food for much of the world, which makes research to improve yields and the nutritional levels of rice vital to all of the world's population,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “This is an important scientific milestone that will help us to end famine in the developing world and open new opportunities for America's rice industry.”

The project analysis, published in the August issue of Nature, represents a highly accurate blueprint for all the rice chromosomes, which will impact the most important food source for half the world's population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) collaborated in funding the research.

“Tapping into the genetic potential of rice brings new opportunities for understanding how plants grow, develop and create the renewable biomass and bioenergy resources for our future energy security needs, in addition to production and nutritional enhancement,” said Raymond L. Orbach, director of DOE's Office of Science.

Rice is the first crop plant to be sequenced and is significant because it shares common sets of genes with most of the world's major food and feed crops, such as corn, wheat, rye and barley. The map-based sequence has led to the identification of genes responsible for agronomically important traits that affect growth and promote higher yields. An increase in yields will help feed an expanding world population at a time of increasing restraints on agriculture.

A draft sequence of the rice genome was completed by the IRGSP in 2002. Now, the complete, quality sequence will provide the higher resolution genome map required to identify important genes. Although their early draft sequence provided a snapshot of the rice genome, the finished sequence analysis now reveals details of the gene-containing regions and the first centromeres to be sequenced from a plant or animal. Centromeres are the anchor points of a chromosome that control separation when a cell divides.

The entire genetic sequence is available for public access in GenBank at the National Institute of Health, enabling the advancement of cereal crop improvement and basic plant research worldwide. The finished sequence sets the stage for a complete functional characterization of the rice genome.

USDA, NSF and DOE jointly contributed $14.4 million since 1999 to the Institute for Genomic Research, the University of Arizona, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Washington University, and the University of Wisconsin; each participated in the IRGSP project. The IRGSP is led by Japan and includes the United States, China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Thailand, France, Brazil and the United Kingdom.