Thanks to Karly Graham for this. Incisive comment from Jim Thomas of Greenpeace at end of the article: 


"The more scientists read into the genetic 'book of life' the clearer it becomes just how complex genes are, how little we understand and how careful we should be.

"Understanding plant genomes is one thing.  However, seeking to own them  through the patent system or manipulate them with such blunt and dangerous techniques as genetic engineering is quite another.

"Greenpeace hopes the Arabidopsis genome information is used for subtler  breeding techniques such as molecular-assisted breeding, not trumpeted as  justification for releasing more unpredictable and unwanted GM plants."

JIC press release follows  article

EASTERN DAILY PRESS - Thursday 14 December 2000

A new genetic milestone has been reached with the announcement that  scientists have mapped the first entire DNA blueprint of a plant.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre (JIC) at Colney, near Norwich, played a  key role in the international project, the results of which will have  wide-ranging implications for agriculture, medicine and energy.

Information gained from the genome might help scientists improve crops  through breeding or genetic engineering.

This could lead to foods that last longer on supermarket shelves, are low in fat, high in protein - or simply taste better.

It may also help to make crops hardier by improving understanding of how  plants protect themselves against bacteria, parasites  and other threats.

"Today's announcement is tremendously exciting because it provides the  starting point for us to make some major steps in our understanding of the  natural world," said Dr Ray Mathias, head of science communication and education at JIC.

The JIC scientists, along with American, Japanese and European researchers, have worked out all the DNA sequences for thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) a common weed related to the cabbage and mustard  family.

It is commonly found in the paths and walls of gardens and is the plant  equivalent of the laboratory mouse, being studied by scientists investigation the gene machinery of living organisms.

The research consortium, called the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI), said the work could have widespread applications.

"Plants have a central role in the biospere: fundamentally, they recycle  carbon dioxide to oxygen but also provide us with food, fuel and  medicines.

"Understanding how individual genes function, and how they operate together in the complete genome, is critical to plant biology," said Dr  Mathias.

"This kind of fundamental knowledge is also invaluable because through its application we can more effectively address key issues such as food security and quality and the development of economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture."

Researchers are also comparing the Arabidopsis sequence to other genomes,  including those of years, fruit flies and roundworms.

Dr Daphne Preuss, assistant professor of genetics and cell biology at the  University of Chicago, who helped oversee the US contribution to the  research, said:  "This landmark achievement means that ever lab around the world working with Arabidopsis, as well as any other flowering plant, will be doing their science faster, easier and in a more thorough  way.

"The Arabidopsis genome is entire in the public domain, so the results being announced today are immediately available to scientists across the  world.

The implications for farming, nutrition and medicine were "potentially  vast".

Greenpeace campaigner Jim Thomas said:  "The more scientists read into the genetic 'book of life' the clearer it becomes just how complex genes are, how little we understand and how careful we should be.

"Understanding plant genomes is one thing.  However, seeking to own them  through the paten system or manipulate them with such blunt and dangerous  techniques as genetic engineering is quite another.

"Greenpeace hopes the Arabidopsis genome information is used for subtler  breeding techniques such as molecular-assisted breeding, not trumpeted as  justification for releasing more unpredictable and unwanted GM plants."


Scientists announce major step in making the first complete gene map of a plant

A major leap forward in plant science is reported for the first time today in the scientific journal Nature. An international research group of over 200 scientists, from 35 laboratories, who have been working on the tiny weed Arabidopsis thaliana (thale or common wall cress) have published the complete genetic map for 2 of this plants 5 chromosomes. The map consists of a complete DNA sequence* for chromosomes 2 and 4 of Arabidopsis.

"Arabidopsis was chosen as the subject of international efforts to sequence an entire plant genome in 1996" said Professor Mike Bevan of the John Innes Centre**, Norwich. Professor Bevan, Coordinator of the chromosome 4 sequencing work, went on "this apparently unlikely choice was based on the fact that Arabidopsis has a relatively simple genome, which is, for example, nearly 1/20th the size of the maize genome. It has also been the subject of much research because its small size and rapid growth make it a convenient model plant for laboratory work. This report describes the first 2/5ths of the sequence and we expect to complete the whole genome by the end of 2000."

Many important crop plants have large and complex genomes and these would require huge amounts of time and resources if they were to be analysed directly. Instead scientists decided to begin with the small and relatively simple genome of Arabidopsis and to use the information gained about Arabidopsis genes, and their functions, as a starting point in studying a wide range of crop plants.

"This strategy has been a great success" said Professor Bevan. "Many Arabidopsis genes, when transferred into distantly related plants such as wheat and rice, are found to perform the same functions in many different plants." A variety of genes controlling disease resistance, environmental adaptions such as cold tolerance and sensing of the seasons, plant shape and structure and the production of important food materials such as vitamins, fats and starch have been identified in Arabidopsis. These are providing new fundamental knowledge of important processes and the means to produce crop plants with enhanced nutritional content, disease resistance and environmental adaptability.

Different strains and eco-types of Arabidopsis grow successfully in a wide range of climates from northern Sweden to the tropical Cape Verde Islands. It will now be possible to identify and understand the genetic variation underlying the ability of Arabidopsis to adapt to this wide range of different growing conditions.

The research programme will cost approximately £30 million when completed, and is part of a public funded project, with the main funding supplied by a National Science Foundation ***(NSF) Cooperative Agreement and the European Commission****. Significant funding has also been provided by the BBSRC***** in the UK.

The project has so far completed nearly 70% of the 130 million base genome of Arabidopsis. This report describes the assembly of 37.1 million base pairs to assemble chromosomes 2 and 4 of the Arabidopsis genome. The assembled sequences represent the whole chromosomes with the exception of a small central region called the centromere. This region is characterised by very complex sequence repeats that currently are confounding the scientists attempts to assemble them in the correct arrangement. Analysis of the sequence has revealed 7,781 genes, and this represents approximately 30% of the predicted 26,000 genes that scientists expect to find in a complete plant genome. In contrast, a similar sized region of the human genome, chromosome 22, revealed only 545 genes, demonstrating that sequencing the small genome of Arabidopsis provides a very rich harvest of information.


* DNA sequence The molecule DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) carries the genetic code. DNA is made up of a string of millions of copies of four chemical building blocks (called nucleotides). The pattern of these chemicals in the DNA string "encodes" genetic information. By analysing the sequence of chemicals along the DNA molecule scientists are able to identify the structure and order of genes, and eventually assign particular functions to each gene in the genome.

** John Innes Centre The John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich, UK is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences. The JIC has over 850 staff and students. JIC carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

*** NSF The National Science Foundation is a US government funding agency responsible for non-medical life sciences. It is the principal funder of Arabidopsis genome research in the US.

**** European Commission. Through its science research programmes the EU has provided 20 million Euros, over the last 5 years, to support the European sequencing effort.

***** BBSRC Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The BBSRC is the UK's leading funding agency for basic and strategic research in the non-medical life sciences.


Dr Ray Mathias, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich, NR4 7UH, Tel: 01603 452571, Fax 01603 456844