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Unique library of plant genes germinates, takes root at UNC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's newest "library" is not the kind that will entice an average book lover, but it eventually will please thousands of plant scientists around the world. Through such researchers' work, it will undoubtedly contribute to improving crops that humans around the planet depend on every day, its developers say.

Named Phytome, the unique library is a compilation of voluminous genetic data on 39 plant species. The list includes almost all the world's most valuable crops, among them rice, wheat, corn and potatoes.

"But it's also much more than just a repository of genetic information," said Dr. Todd J. Vision, assistant professor of biology in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

"It allows plant researchers to ask complex questions that involve comparisons across different genes and species, such as 'what genes with known function are related to this gene with unknown function?' or 'what biochemical functions have been gained or lost in different species,'" Vision said.

Answers to those kinds of questions will lead to plants that yield more food and resist damage from diseases and insects more successfully, he said. They also can lead to better and cheaper medicines and plant products like cotton, paper and rubber.

"A persistent challenge of genomics is how to capture, analyze and distribute the massive amounts of data being churned out at record levels from ongoing genome projects," he said. "Creating useful and accessible tools like this is critical to the field. Even if researchers have access to all the genomic data and all the methods necessary to analyze it, it takes a lot of human and computer effort to put those two things together in one user-friendly package like Phytome."

Phytome went online at www.phytome.org in the fall after two years work and already is being used by basic and applied scientists worldwide. The first version of the database contains information on more
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Source:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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