"What's important about the maize project," says W. Richard McCombie, Ph.D., CSHL Professor, co-principal investigator on the maize genome project, and a pioneer in genome sequencing efforts, "is that it provides a reference DNA sequence for the most important agricultural crop in the U.S., making it much easier for people to look at the many variants of different strains or 'accessions' of maize." New sequencing technologies, just now becoming commercially viable, will now "analyze other maize strains by comparing them to this one -- albeit at dramatically lower costs and accelerated speeds," McCombie notes.
Another of the CSHL co-project leaders, Professor Robert Martienssen, Ph.D., puts the maize sequencing project into historical perspective. Martienssen, a world leader in research on transposons -- bits of DNA that copy and insert themselves randomly across the chromosomes -- noted that transposable elements are found in all organisms, "but were discovered in maize more than 60 years ago," by CSHL's Barbara McClintock, who was honored with a Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1983. "It is a remarkable achievement to now be able to visualize transposons in such detail in the maize genome sequence," Martienssen says.
"Wonderful diversity" and its evolutionary implications
Transposons play a particularly dramatic role in the maize genome, as the sequence clearly shows. Nearly 85 percent of the genome is composed of hundreds of families of transposable elements, distributed unevenly across the 10 maize chromosomes. This is one aspect of the maize genome's complexity; another is its variability between
|Contact: Peter Tarr|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory