Rice Gene Map Completed

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Scientists from two companies say they have identified the genetic structure of the rice plant. Experts say the discovery could lead to improved versions of the world's most important food grain. They praised the Swiss and American companies that carried out the project. However, some groups expressed concern that businesses are gaining control over agricultural research.

A separate international group of scientists has been working to identify the genetic structure of rice. Three years ago, researchers from several countries agreed to work together to develop such a genetic map.

More than ten nations are taking part in the international effort, based in Japan. Their goal is to complete the map by Two-Thousand-Three.

However, scientists from the Swiss company Syngenta and the American company Myriad Genetics were first to complete the map. Myriad President Peter Meldrum says the rice map is more than ninety-nine percent complete.

Mr. Meldrum says his company has already identified fifty-thousand rice genes. He says plant researchers could use the information to grow improved versions of rice within five years. Scientists say the map also could speed research on more complex grains such as corn and wheat.

Last year, other researchers completed the mapping of another plant, the Arabidopsis weed. However, rice is the first crop to have its genetic material identified.

The new discovery raises questions about private control of genetic material. Syngenta and Myriad say they plan to offer the new information to scientists who agree to share any profits from their discoveries. Syngenta also says it will work with scientific organizations in developing countries to improve rice for local farmers. The company says it will not seek a share of those profits.

The International Rice Research Institute says Syngenta has already offered information to its researchers. The Institute is the world's leading rice research organization.

Rice feeds more poor people in the world than any other single food crop. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said the discovery will be an important tool for increasing food production and easing world hunger.

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

Voice of America Special English