Press Release

Rice Genome Sequence Announced By International Public Consortium

An international sequencing consortium that includes TIGR announced today that scientists have completed the assembly of an advanced, high-quality draft genome sequence of rice and made that data freely available. The sequence is an important new tool for agricultural and nutritional research involving one of the world's most important crops.

December 18, 2002

Providing an important new tool for agricultural and nutrition research, an international consortium that includes The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) announced Wednesday that scientists have completed the assembly of an advanced, high-quality draft genome sequence - the genetic blueprint - of rice.

At ceremonies in Tokyo and in Washington, scientists and government officials whose agencies supported the public International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) said that the availability of the high-quality rice sequence could lead to major advances in research involving one of the world's most important crops.

The public consortium's rice genome sequence data - posted on the internet and freely available to all scientists worldwide - are expected to help plant scientists develop improved rice strains that are more productive and hardier. The draft sequence also provides an important tool for scientists who focus their research on other cereal crops (including maize, wheat and barley) with genomes that are colinear with rice.

Rice is one of the world's most important foods, providing more than half of the daily calories for about a third of the world's population. The IRGSP sequenced the genome of the japonica subspecies of rice (Oryza sativa) that is cultivated in Japan, Korea and the United States. Another rice subspecies, indica, has been sequenced by a Chinese institute.

The IRGSP included a wide range of scientists from Asia and other major rice-growing areas of the world. Research teams at Japan's Rice Genome Research Program accomplished the lion's share of the sequencing work on the rice genome, with includes about 430 million base pairs distributed along 12 chromosomes. TIGR and other U.S.-based research groups accomplished about a quarter of the sequencing and labs in China, Taiwan, Korea, France, Brazil and India did the rest.

At TIGR, a team led by assistant investigator C. Robin Buell mostly sequenced rice chromosomes 3, 10 and 11 (more than 10% of the entire genome), and developed a website for the entire rice genome at: http://www.tigr.org/tdb/e2k1/osa1/ . U.S. contributors also included research groups at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Clemson University, Washington University, the University of Arizona, Rutgers University, and the University of Wisconsin.

Buell called Wednesday's announcement "an extremely important milestone in rice research." She added, "We hope the scientific community will take advantage of these data to develop new varieties of rice that can deliver increased yields and grow in harsher conditions."

Noting that agribusiness companies had shared their sequencing data with the public project, Buell said "the rice project is a positive example of a public-private partnership in genomics." She said plant researchers are "excited by the opportunities to 'leverage' the rice genome sequence to benefit research into other important cereal crops such as maize, wheat and sorghum."

The U.S. portion of the IRGSP was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Government agencies in Japan and other participating nations supported their scientists' roles in the international project.

Rice, setting a record for a single species, has been the focus of four separate genome-sequencing initiatives, including the IRGSP and private initiatives by agribusinesses Syngenta and Monsanto Co., both of which have shared their rice sequence data with the public project. In addition, a separate research project at the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) has developed a draft sequence of subspecies indica 93-11, which is the main subspecies grown in China and Southeast Asia.

Scientific papers by Japanese and Chinese IRGSP research groups detailing the complete draft sequences of rice chromosomes 1 and 4 were published last month in the journal Nature, and IRGSP papers on the other 10 rice chromosomes are planned. Now that the so-called "Phase II" draft genome sequence of rice is completed - with each piece of the rice genone sequenced an average of 10 times and assigned a physical location -- IRGSP researchers plan to refine the data and closing the remaining gaps in the sequence. The final, "finished" genome sequence is expected by 2005.

The rice project is an important part of TIGR's plant genomics program, which includes other major research projects involving, maize (corn), potato, and the model plant Arabadopsis thaliana and some of its close relatives. TIGR had sequenced about one-third of the Arabadopsis genome as part of an international consortium that published its results in Nature in December 2000. TIGR is also conducting research involving pine, barley, banana, and plant pathogens.

TIGR's president, Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D., said the rice genome sequence is an important step towards better understanding one of the world's most important crops and in gaining insight into related crops - such as maize, wheat and barley - which have much larger genomes. "The rice genome sequence will benefit a large number of plant genomics projects and offers the potential to help millions of people across the globe," Fraser said.