UW Researcher on Advisory Board of Major Corn Gene Sequencing Project

February 27, 2008
Anne Sylvester holding tray of plants
Anne Sylvester, an associate professor in the University of Wyoming's College of Agricultre, is an advisory board member of a major project that has mapped the corn plant's massive genome.

A University of Wyoming faculty member is an advisory board member of a major project that has mapped the corn plant's massive genome sequence.

Anne Sylvester, an associate professor in the UW College of Agriculture's Department of Molecular Biology, is one of the speakers at the 50th annual Maize Genetics Conference Feb. 27-March 2 in Washington, D.C.

The full sequence of the maize genome will be publicly announced Feb. 28.

The gene sequencing project leader, Richard Wilson, director of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, in St. Louis, Mo., said the sequence map is the holy grail for scientists trying to improve a crop that is traded globally for food, animal feed and fuel, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Beyond the global implications, Sylvester said, "The research is relevant to the University of Wyoming because of the impact of the sequence on the genomics research, which is already available online (www.maizegdb.org/sequencing_project.php), and there are many genomics researchers on campus including several in molecular biology."

The approximate 50,000 genes identified by the sequencing project will become available for researchers, including Sylvester and her team, to develop better corn varieties and improve the plant's productivity. Improved varieties could better withstand environmental stresses such as drought and pests.

Sylvester said researchers developing a particular trait can select and breed for the trait readily by choosing the pollen from one plant of interest and crossing it with the developing ear of another plant.

Wilson said a key field of research, according to the AP, will be discovering which genes in the sequence lead to which specific traits in a stalk of corn.

"That's what we still have to learn," he said.

The approximate $30 million corn genome project was funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.

Involved in the project are researchers from Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, University of Arizona in Tucson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and Iowa State University.

Sylvester is one of the many researchers worldwide whose work is benefiting from the sequencing project.

Sylvester, who is conducting her research in the UW greenhouse complex and in Colorado and Hawaii, has already discovered a gene family that normally functions to help cells in leaves grow normally.

The research is centered on understanding the molecular mechanisms of growth, development and function of organisms, including how corn leaves grow. Leaves are the most important source of carbohydrates in corn, and past genetics research has led to optimal shapes for maximum production.

The title of her Feb. 29 program at the Maize Genetics Conference is "Vesicle trafficking during cell wall expansion: Identifying cellular compartments by live cell imaging of tagged RAB2A1 in maize leaf cells."

Sylvester will also present a short talk on a research paper, be involved in an outreach program titled "Reaching students through faculty training," and present a poster titled "Fluorescent protein tagged maize lines for cell biology and functional genomics."

A story detailing Sylvester's research is in the fall 2007 issue of Ag News, available at www.uwyo.edu/AgCollege/AGNEWS/AGNEWS_main.htm.

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