Newswise — Researchers with the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) have published the "finished" DNA blueprint for a crop that feeds over half of the people in the world. Analysis of the rice genome, reported in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal Nature, revealed the location and sequence of over 37,500 protein-encoding genes in 389 million bases of DNA.

Rice now holds the distinction of being the first crop plant whose genome has been sequenced. Scientists around the world will use the wealth of new information in efforts to improve yields in not only rice, but also in other closely related grass crops such as barley, corn, rye, sugarcane and wheat.

"Knowing the sequence of one of the world's most important crops, will be invaluable to plant genomics researchers. This project will potentially help millions of people around the globe," said National Science Foundation (NSF) Director, Arden L. Bement, Jr.

The IRGSP used the japonica subspecies of rice, which is cultivated in Japan, Korea and the United States. The group made public a draft sequence of the japonica genome in late 2002. Since then, IRGSP scientists have increased the quality of the sequence to 95 percent complete at greater than 99 percent accuracy. By comparison, the 3 billion-base-pair human genome, with its 25,000 genes, reached that quality level in 2004, some 3 years after its draft sequence was completed.

Formally established in 1998, the Japanese-led, IRGSP consortium also includes the United States, China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Thailand, France, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

"This is a monumental achievement. Enough credit cannot be given to the IRGSP members for working together to advance the research of such an important world crop," said Mary Clutter, assistant director for NSF's biology directorate.

Estimates predict that world rice production must increase by 30 percent in the next 20 years to keep pace with the growing world population. Thus, maximizing rice yields is particularly crucial now, as worldwide environmental degradation has caused decreased rice production for the past 4 years.

Rice plants also provide more than just food. Grain is fermented into wine. Rice straw makes cattle feed, paper, rope and bricks. Rice oil goes into soap and cosmetics, and seed hulls provide fuel for simple stoves and packing material for fragile cargo. Even the ash from the hulls is useful--it cleans discolored teeth!

The U.S. National Plant Genome Initiative coordinated the U.S. component of the project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Rockefeller Foundation provided support for the work.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.47 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Register for reporter access to contact details