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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 99-58 - September 29, 1999

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Paul Gilna

 (703) 306-1469

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

NSF Awards Large Grant for Arabidopsis Information Resource
$5.3-Million Award Will Boost Understanding of Plant Genetics

By the end of next year, scientists will likely know the entire genetic makeup of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, a mustard that is closely related to many food plants and used as a model for all aspects of plant biology. Availability of so much data about this plant -- the first to be completely sequenced - will be a significant step toward understanding the biology of all plants and improving agriculturally important crops such as corn, soybeans and rice.

To make best use of these data, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a five-year, $5.3 million grant to the Arabidopsis thaliana Information Resource (TAIR) project, a joint venture of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's (D.C.) Department of Plant Biology located at California's Stanford University and the National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico (which is receiving a sub-award).

"NSF is committed to delivering a comprehensive information resource to the international Arabidopsis research community," says Paul Gilna, program director in NSF's division of biological infrastructure. "This award will allow for the development of an increased ability to respond quickly to user community needs."

The NSF grant will support a new, publicly accessible database, TAIR, which will contain all the information about the Arabidopsis genome project and experimental data from literature to facilitate the analysis and interpretation of the plant's genetic makeup. There is a direct link between most, if not all, genes of the model plant and those of 250,000 other plant species, including commercially important ones. Arabidopsis, however, is easier to study because it has a highly compact genome, with about a third the amount of DNA as rice, for example. TAIR will allow researchers to compare the DNA sequences of other plants to those whose functions are known in Arabidopsis to determine what role the genes in the other plants may play. This, in turn, could hasten understanding of how to use plant genetics to increase productivity, bolster resistance to disease and optimize other desirable traits in the hundred or so commercially important plant species.

"We will be developing a comprehensive database of Arabidopsis data with broad applications," says biologist Chris Somerville of Carnegie. "Because the value of Arabidopsis is its utility in understanding other plants, our goal is to build a structure that permits us to link information about Arabidopsis to all other plants, and vice versa."

Adds Sue Rhee, director of TAIR, "With the explosion of genomic data and the diversity of data types and methods, biologists are in need of new ways of obtaining and analyzing data. TAIR will address this critical need by providing integrated and value-added data in an industry-standard database environment." The user-friendly resource, which will be available at a Web site hosted by NCGR, will feature an intuitive, object-oriented program that will use a common vocabulary, have visualization tools and allow information retrieval queried from any perspective.

The new database will replace the current Arabidopsis database gradually and incrementally, with the release of the preliminary version of the new database on January 15, 2000. A first version of TAIR, with new data and displays, will be released September 1, 2000.




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