Plant Genetic Map

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

An international team of scientists says it has identified the first complete genetic structure of a plant. The findings could provide new tools to produce better crops and protect plants against disease. Scientists say the findings also will help with a project to make a map of human genes.

Experts from the United States, Europe, and Japan started identifying the plant's genes four years ago. The magazines Nature and Science published reports describing their work.

The fruit fly and a worm are the only other complex organisms whose genes have been identified.

The scientific team produced a genetic map of Arabidopsis Thaliana (AH- RAH-BA- DOP-SIS). Arabidopsis -- commonly called Thale Cress -- grows wild along many roads. It belongs to the same plant family as the mustard plant. However, it has no value as a crop.

The scientists studied Arabidopsis because it has fewer genes than crops such as corn or wheat. They say the genes of the Arabidopsis plant are a good model for two-hundred-fifty thousand other kinds of plants.

Mike Bevan of Cambridge University in England is the European supervisor for the project. He says that scientists need to learn more about plants because of their importance in the environment.

Almost everything humans need to survive can come from plants. Plants produce food for humans and other living things. They also make valuable products, including clothing and drugs.

Mr. Bevan says information from the Arabidopsis project can help produce stronger food crops. He also says it will influence efforts to produce genetic maps of more developed plants and animals.

The map of Arabidopsis has about twenty-five thousand genes. The scientific team says it has identified enough genetic information to keep researchers busy for many years.

Genes from Arabidopsis already are being tested for creating food crops high in vitamins. Such crops may grow faster and resist insects. Some of the plant's genes are similar to human genes found in diseases like cancer. The scientists say their findings will aid medical research projects.

A second part of the project aims to identify what all of the genes in the plant do. The scientific team hopes to have that work done by Two-Thousand-Ten.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English