|WASHINGTON - Scientists could finish decoding the genetic structure of corn several years ahead of schedule, a breakthrough that could bring advances including a drought-resistant crop, biotechnology companies said after agreeing to make their data public.|
Monsanto Co., DuPont Co.\'s Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and privately held Ceres Inc. said they will combine their data on sequencing of the corn genome with existing academic research. The partnership could see the genome mapped by 2007, five years ahead of schedule.
As early as this summer, an Internet database will be accessible to businesses, university researchers and other groups to share research in their bid to crack the genome code of one of the world\'s most popular grains.
Scientists anticipate that by identifying the entire DNA sequence of the plant they will reveal genetic secrets that could boost yields or lead to developing corn that can survive drought, among other potential discoveries.
Corn is one of the world\'s most widely grown grains. This year\'s crop is forecast at 611 million metric tons, with much of it feeding humans and livestock or being added to fuel.
The new partnership \"enlarges the availability of future inventions, innovations and discoveries to a broader audience than would be available if we were to keep these projects and databases within our own private sector groups,\" Pioneer vice president Bill Niebur said.
The quest to discover the secrets of life has led to the genome - the collection of a living organism\'s DNA - being mapped in everything from humans to rice, worms and mice.
Two efforts to decode the human genome by public and private groups were widely followed four years ago not only for their scientific importance but because of an intense disagreement over how and where to publish the information.
Millions of dollars have been invested as researchers decode the corn genome, which is about 20 percent complete. Researchers estimate it could take as much as $100 million more from businesses, independent donors and the U.S. government to finish the study.
Each company would still retain the intellectual property rights to the technology they develop using the sequence database.
\"The corn genome is on the same size scale as the human genome,\" said Tom Adams, director of genomic technology with St. Louis-based Monsanto. \"We didn\'t want to get into this path that the human genome took where there was tremendous amount of wasted efforts between what was done in the academic ... and the industrial world.\"
Corn is the largest U.S. crop and is expected to total nearly 257 million metric tons this year, about 20 percent of which will be exported.
\"As a grower and also a consumer, it\'s important to be provided with new traits that offer enhanced value and new products,\" said Gary Davis, chairman of National Corn Growers Association\'s Research and Business Development Action Team.
Story by Christopher Doering
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE