Friday, December 04, 2009


One more organism yields its genome. This time it's maize, what Americans call corn, domesticated over the past 10,000 years from the Central American grass teosinte, one of the world's most important food crops and an important model organism for research into the inheritance and function of genes. A 2.3 gigabase genome (2.3 billion steps on the DNA "spiral staircase"), 32,000 genes on ten chromosomes. The successful sequencing was announced in the 20 November issue of Science.

Let me draw your attention to two aspects of the Science report.

First, here is the list of authors:
Patrick S. Schnable, Doreen Ware, Robert S. Fulton, Joshua C. Stein, Fusheng Wei, Shiran Pasternak, Chengzhi Liang, Jianwei Zhang, Lucinda Fulton, Tina A. Graves, Patrick Minx, Amy Denise Reily, Laura Courtney, Scott S. Kruchowski, Chad Tomlinson, Cindy Strong, Kim Delehaunty, Catrina Fronick, Bill Courtney, Susan M. Rock, Eddie Belter, Feiyu Du, Kyung Kim, Rachel M. Abbott, Marc Cotton, Andy Levy, Pamela Marchetto, Kerri Ochoa, Stephanie M. Jackson, Barbara Gillam, Weizu Chen, Le Yan, Jamey Higginbotham, Marco Cardenas, Jason Waligorski, Elizabeth Applebaum, Lindsey Phelps, Jason Falcone, Krishna Kanchi, Thynn Thane, Adam Scimone, Nay Thane, Jessica Henke, Tom Wang, Jessica Ruppert, Neha Shah, Kelsi Rotter, Jennifer Hodges, Elizabeth Ingenthron, Matt Cordes, Sara Kohlberg, Jennifer Sgro, Brandon Delgado, Kelly Mead, Asif Chinwalla, Shawn Leonard, Kevin Crouse, Kristi Collura, Dave Kudrna, Jennifer Currie, Ruifeng He, Angelina Angelova, Shanmugam Rajasekar, Teri Mueller, Rene Lomeli, Gabriel Scara, Ara Ko, Krista Delaney, Marina Wissotski, Georgina Lopez, David Campos, Michele Braidotti, Elizabeth Ashley, Wolfgang Golser, HyeRan Kim, Seunghee Lee, Jinke Lin, Zeljko Dujmic, Woojin Kim, Jayson Talag, Andrea Zuccolo, Chuanzhu Fan, Aswathy Sebastian, Melissa Kramer, Lori Spiegel, Lidia Nascimento, Theresa Zutavern, Beth Miller, Claude Ambroise, Stephanie Muller, Will Spooner, Apurva Narechania, Liya Ren, Sharon Wei, Sunita Kumari, Ben Faga, Michael J. Levy, Linda McMahan, Peter Van Buren, Matthew W. Vaughn, Kai Ying, Cheng-Ting Yeh, Scott J. Emrich, Yi Jia, Ananth Kalyanaraman, An-Ping Hsia, W. Brad Barbazuk, Regina S. Baucom, Thomas P. Brutnell, Nicholas C. Carpita, Cristian Chaparro, Jer-Ming Chia, Jean-Marc Deragon, James C. Estill, Yan Fu, Jeffrey A. Jeddeloh, Yujun Han, Hyeran Lee, Pinghua Li, Damon R. Lisch, Sanzhen Liu, Zhijie Liu, Dawn Holligan Nagel, Maureen C. McCann, Phillip SanMiguel, Alan M. Myers, Dan Nettleton, John Nguyen, Bryan W. Penning, Lalit Ponnala, Kevin L. Schneider, David C. Schwartz, Anupma Sharma, Carol Soderlund, Nathan M. Springer, Qi Sun, Hao Wang, Michael Waterman, Richard Westerman, Thomas K. Wolfgruber, Lixing Yang, Yeisoo Yu, Lifang Zhang, Shiguo Zhou, Qihui Zhu, Jeffrey L. Bennetzen, R. Kelly Dawe, Jiming Jiang, Ning Jiang, Gernot G. Presting, Susan R. Wessler, Srinivas Aluru, Robert A. Martienssen, Sandra W. Clifton, W. Richard McCombie, Rod A. Wing, and Richard K. Wilson
One-hundred-and-fifty-seven participants from more than 30 departments or institutions, all but two in the USA. Of particular note is the apparent ethnicity of the names. Of all human activities, science is most successful at cutting across cultural boundaries. Race, religion, politics, gender: All are irrelevant in the face of reproducible empirical data. The predominance of apparently Chinese names deserves notice.

Second, take a look at this graphic from the article, a schematic of several aspects of the maize genome, with a comparison to the genomes of the related cereals rice and sorghum. Never mind the details; just enjoy this one way of representing the hidden beauty of life, a "four-letter" symphony playing out in every cell of every kernel of maize. Click to enlarge.