Arranging DNA fragments into a genome sequence that scientists can interpret is a challenge often compared to assembling a puzzle, except there is no box to provide an idea of what the picture is even supposed to be. Sometimes there's guidance in the form of other publicly-available DNA sequences from related organisms that can be used to guide the assembly process, but its usefulness depends on how closely related any two sequences are to one another. For example, a reference genome might be so distantly related from the one being assembled, it would be akin to comparing a Model-T to a contemporary hybrid car.
For researchers interested in switchgrass, a perennial grass that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investigating as a prospective biofuels feedstock, assembling the plant genome poses an even more complicated puzzle than usual because it has multiple copies of its chromosomes. The DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI), in an international partnership that includes the DOE BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) and the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), two of the three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers, has sequenced plant genomes of related candidate bioenergy crops such as sorghum and the model grass Brachypodium. Both plants have been used as references for switchgrass, however sorghum last shared a common ancestor with switchgrass more than 20 million years ago while Brachypodium last shared a common ancestor with switchgrass more than 50 million years ago. The genome of a much closer switchgrass relativefoxtail millet (Setaria italica)is described in the May 13, 2012 edition of Nature Biotechnology. All three genomes, along with those of other plants sequenced by the DOE JGI are publicly accessible on www.phytozome.net.
"We're not thinking of Setaria as a biofuel crop per se but as a very informative model since its genome is so structurally close to switchgrass,"
|Contact: David Gilbert|
DOE/Joint Genome Institute