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AGRICULTURE REPORT – April 23, 2002: Genetic Map of Rice - 2002-04-22

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Scientists have identified almost all the genes found in rice. Two teams published separate versions of the genetic information for rice plants this month. This is the first time scientists have mapped the genes of an important crop.

The scientists say this genetic information could lead to improved kinds of rice and better rice production in developing countries. They also expect the information to be useful in improving other grains, such as corn and wheat.

Rice feeds more than half the world’s population. However, weather conditions, disease and insects can restrict its production. That may change because of the efforts of the scientific teams. They reported their findings in the publication Science.

One group was led by Jun Yu of the Beijing Genomics Institute in China and the University of Washington in Seattle. His group studied indica, the rice most commonly grown in China. The group says it has identified more than ninety percent of the genes in indica rica.

The other scientists work for Syngenta company based in Switzerland. They did the research at the company’s Torrey Mesa Research Institute in La Jolla (La HOY-ah) California. They created a map of japonica, a short- grain rice grown in warm climates. Syngenta claims its map is more than ninety-nine percent complete and ninety-nine percent correct.

Both teams say they are sharing their findings with the public on the Internet computer system. A third team led by Japanese scientists is working independently to produce a genetic map of rice. It expects to produce another version of the rice genome later this year.

The chief editor of Science magazine said he believes the rice genome could prove more important in the next few years than the human genome. He noted that more people depend on rice than any other crop.

Science magazine published a commentary with one of the reports. Jeffrey Bennetzen of Purdue University in Indiana noted that the scientists found that rice has more genes than a number of other organisms. The studies found that a rice plant has between forty-five-thousand and fifty-five-thousand genes. Humans are believed to have about thirty-five-thousand genes.

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