The remarkable progress in automated DNA sequencing, and the medical and industrial interest in the human genome, have stimulated a variety of genome studies, including the systematic sequencing of some plant genomes. Again, the results obtained with the model plant Arabidopsis are very encouraging. Several industrial concerns are even rumored to have completely sequenced the genomic clone banks, which probably represent the entire Arabidopsis genome. A
concerted effort among several European, American and Japanese laboratories has already obtained nearly half of the Arabidopsis genome in an ordered and annotated sequence (http://www.tigr.org). A first analysis indicates that plants probably function with a mere 20,000 genes. Of these sequenced genes, half are not found in the databases of sequences from other organisms.
A parallel effort, mainly by Japanese researchers, is taking place for rice, and the United States has also started a sequence program for corn. Taken together, all these data confirm the limited gene complexity of plant genomes, and this in turn will stimulate efforts toward the identification of the function of plant genes. In the medical field, this has already become an important priority and has even resulted in a new name for this research: functional genomics.2 Here too, new technology and instrumentation is rapidly evolving and many start-up companies specialize in supplying these on a contract basis.
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