Dear ASPP member:

The December 14th issue of Nature will announce the completion and analysis
of the Arabidopsis genome sequencing effort. The December issue of Plant Physiology is a special issue on Arabidopsis research. There will be a White House reception December 13th celebrating the completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequencing project. Press conferences and related events in recognition are being held in Washington, DC and around the globe on this achievement. We see it as a great opportunity to focus the public's attention on the importance of plants and their study.  The power of this publicity could be amplified by local action by ASPP members. Talk about it in your classes or other public forums. Write a short letter to the editor of your local newspapers or forward copies of the following ASPP news release and attached ISPMB news release, which were written for the media. Offer to answer questions that news writers may have. This is an ideal opportunity to tell the public what we are about.

With best wishes,
Dan Cosgrove
President, ASPP

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Arabidopsis Genome Sequence Completion
A Milestone in Plant Biology

ROCKVILLE, MD -- The completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequence this month is the culmination of a remarkable decade of worldwide growth and collaboration in research on this model plant. Historically viewed as a useless weed, the Arabidopsis thaliana has become a giant of science, noted Dr. Natasha Raikhel editor-in-chief of the plant science journal, Plant Physiology.
Because of its small genome, overall small size, predilection to self-pollinate, quick generation time, and copious production of tiny seeds, Arabidopsis thaliana has become the most powerful genetic and genomic model system in plant biology. The amount of research on Arabidopsis has grown from a trickle in the 1970s and 1980s to a steady flow in the 1990s allowing acceleration of research. Bipartisan cooperation of President Clinton's administration with the Congress on plant genome research sponsored by Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and their colleagues contributed to completing this publicly funded project to sequence the genome nearly four years ahead of schedule. Several nations joined the U.S. in the research effort.
Knowledge scientists now have of the Arabidopsis genome sequence will be used to make advances in functional genomics. This will lead to improvements in valuable crops that share important genomic information with Arabidopsis. Through using increased knowledge of plant genomes and by applying modern transformation technologies, scientists will be able to engineer crops more tolerant to drought, heat and cold and resistant to a wide range of pests. Scientists will also be able to engineer more nutritious plants with more protein, vitamins and minerals that will help combat diseases related to nutritional deficiencies in the diet. Plant genomic information will also contribute to development of plant-based energy feedstocks and lifesaving medicines.
Evidence of the healthy state of cooperation in Arabidopsis functional genomics is presented in this month's special issue of Plant Physiology, published by the American Society of Plant Physiologists, which is solely devoted to Arabidopsis. There is free access to the journal from December 14 until the end of January www.plantphysiol.org
(more)
In this issue, six solicited articles are devoted to "Resources and Opportunities" for Arabidopsis genome research. The purpose of these articles is not only to make widely known what public resources are available, but also to recognize the significant contributions of a number of dedicated individuals.
Specific articles are devoted to the seed and molecular resources for Arabidopsis, the Arabidopsis genome project, the Arabidopsis Gene-Chip project, the Arabidopsis microarray project, the Arabidopsis knockout facility, and the Arabidopsis Information Service. This issue also contains 28 research articles, 4 Scientific Correspondence articles and 4 Updates, all concerning Arabidopsis-related work.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had observed that a weed is simply "a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Dr. Raikhel added, "Research on Arabidopsis has helped make it a more virtuous plant than even Emerson could have imagined -- a plant that will provide many profound benefits to humanity."
Dr. Raikhel can be reached at nraikhel@pilot.msu.edu


        PRESS RELEASE - EMBARGOED UNTIL 19:00 GMT 13th December 2000
        
NOTE: The contents of this release and the papers to be published in Nature on the 14th December 2000 are STRICTLY EMBARGOED until 19:00 hours GMT on the 13th December 2000.

A Minor Mustard Hots Up Plant Science By Providing The Recipe For Life

Today, in the scientific journal Nature, an international consortium of plant scientists publishes, for the first time, an entire plant genome sequence. European, Japanese and US researchers have focussed their attention on a common but insignificant weed, called Arabidopsis thaliana or thale cress, to unravel the entire structure of the plant genetic code at the DNA level. Arabidopsis is an ideal model plant for this first kind of analysis. It is small, has a rapid life cycle and is relatively simple at the genetic level  none the less it has to carry out all the basic genetic and biological functions essential to the life of any plant. Map-makers can produce detailed large scale maps by adding more and more detail to a simple, small scale map. In a similar way scientists will use Arabidopsisf 116 million base-pairs (Mb) of DNA, encoding nearly 26,000 genes, to increase their understanding of plant biology not only in Arabidopsis but in a wide range of other, genetically more complex, plants - including important crops.

gIn the past 150 years we have learned that the value of plants lies in their genes but only now are we about to witness the extraordinary discovery of the sequence of all the genes in a plant. This knowledge has profound significance for mankind and our quest to produce food and to preserve our environmentsh said Dr Richard Flavell FRS CBE (Chief Scientific Officer, Ceres Inc CA. USA). gFrom the Arabidopsis genome sequence it will increasingly be possible to predict, identify and isolate particular genes from any plant and so the present discoveries provide a leap forward for improving the value of all plants, including the key crops. The knowledge now available to humans, is likely to be of much greater value to the peoples of the earth than, for example, the sequence of all the human genes, because all, including the very poor, benefit directly from improvements in food supplies.h

Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis or thale cress) is a small annual weed, related to the cabbage and mustard family of plants, that is commonly found growing in the paths and walls of many gardens. It is widely distributed around the world in many different climates and habitats, from the Arctic to the equator. The adaptation of Arabidopsis to these diverse environments is of great interest to scientists, and combined with its small size, rapid life cycle and relative genetic simplicity (in plant terms) this accounts for Arabidopsisf emergence as an important experimental organism. 

Five years ago a group of scientists from Europe, Japan and the USA decided that the Arabidopsis genome should be sequenced to provide access to a wealth of new information on plant biology. This group, called the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI), has recently completed the sequencing of the genome and carried out a comprehensive initial analysis of the sequence. The 116 million base-pairs (Mb) sequenced encodes nearly 26,000 genes.

How will this rich harvest of genes and be used? Firstly, less than 10% of Arabidopsis genes have so far been studied experimentally, however the genome sequence has identified many new genes, providing scientists with many more genes for investigation. Consequently, scientists will be able understand in greater detail the metabolic processes that are unique to plants, how they interact with their environment, and how they cope with a vast array of pests and diseases. Secondly, many Arabidopsis genes are closely related to genes in other organisms and a surprisingly large number of biological processes are conserved both between different plants and between plants and animals. By comparing genes, and their functions, across species and even kingdoms it is possible to pool information about basic biological activities. The Arabidopsis genome sequence has a value that extends beyond the interests of a relatively limited number of plant biologists, because of its potential impact in other areas of biology.

The importance of the Arabidopsis plant genome sequence extends much further than basic science. How can this information be used? Although crop plants appear very different, they are as closely related as mammals are to each other. Arabidopsis genes are generally present in crop plants where they perform related functions. The relatively high degree of sequence similarity among plant genes aids gene identification across species. The Arabidopsis genome sequence can be used to identify genes that control valuable agronomic characteristics. These genes can be transferred into to crops using genetic modification (GM) technology. The sequence can also be used to identify agronomically important genes in plants related to crops, these can then be bred into the crop using marker-assisted breeding.

There are many reasons for needing to know much more about how plants function. They are key components of the biosphere, responsible for CO
2 reduction and O2 generation, and provide extensive and diverse habitats for many other organisms. They produce all of the food (and a wide range of medicines) for humans and domesticated animals. Ensuring an adequate future supply of nutritious food for the growing population while reducing the environmental impact of agriculture is a major current challenge. The impact of rapid environmental change on crop production can be addressed by understanding how crop plants, presently adapted to a narrow range of climates and soils, can adapt to wider extremes of climate while retaining high productivity. Achieving a sustainable carbon cycle requires far deeper knowledge of plant processes than we now possess.   Until these processes and many others are understood our ability to react to these potentially overwhelming challenges is seriously compromised. Knowledge of plant gene function is critically important in understanding our environment and underlies food security, for these reasons it matches biomedical research for human health in importance.

Notes

The completion of the genome sequence of the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis) generates many new scientific opportunities. First comparison of the genome sequence of a plant with those of the fruit fly Drosophila and the nematode worm provides a comprehensive survey of the evolution of cellular processes in these highly different life forms. One of the surprises arising from this is that plants, although obviously very different from flies and worms and humans, use many similar components for similar cellular functions. The deep conservation of cell functions provides foundations for linking research between diverse organisms, leading to an efficient broadening of the scope of biological investigation. Sometimes different proteins in plants have been recruited to perform similar functions in flies and plants and worms.

Plant genomes are characterised by large differences in their size, and this is often caused by genome duplications leading to polyploidy, an important factor in plant evolution. Analysis of the sequence has revealed a dynamic genome. Genome sequence reveals a past duplication of the Arabidopsis genome and subsequent gene loss, thus analysis of the Arabidopsis genome reveals important mechanisms of genome evolution. Plant genomes are methylated and this plays a major role in regulating heritable changes in chromatin function and gene expression.

Arabidopsis centromeres most extensively sequenced of any higher eukaryote provides a way to understand replication and segregation and design new ways of genetic engineering.
Plants synthesise all their nutrients from air water and minerals in the soil. This remarkable metabolic capacity is due in part to genes derived from a photosynthetic bacteria related to present day cyanobacteria, denizens of hot pools. These genes have evolved by transfer to the nucleus.

Similar exercises have been carried out in other organisms such as yeast (S.cerevisiae), a nematode worm (Caenorhabditis elegans) and a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Arabidopsis contains the largest number of genes analysed to date. It is initially strange to consider that a simple plant has nearly twice as many genes as a fruit fly. A closer look reveals that the fruit fly, the nematode worm and Arabidopsis share similar numbers of types of genes (about 11,000) but plants appear to have more families of proteins
many of which have more members.

# # # # #
Contact: Brian Hyps 301-251-0560 bhyps@aspp.org
December 13, 2000 NR #100-19


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