NSF awards $7.5M grant to University of Oklahoma for plant genomics

November 20, 2009

A decade ago, a group of University of Oklahoma researchers were sequencing the first human chromosome as part of the human genome project. Today, the OU Advanced Center for Genome Technology is contributing to an international effort to sequence the tomato genome with a $7.5 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation for plant genomics.

"The tomato has tremendous agriculture importance, so improving the tomato and crop yields will improve quality of life," said Bruce Roe, OU professor emeritus, who will lead the University's ACGT group in collaborate with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Colorado State University on the project.

Roe says understanding the chemical makeup of a tomato is very similar to understanding the chemical makeup of human beings, which has led to early diagnosis of many diseases, the ability to trace our evolutionary history and much more. So, better understanding of the tomato will lead to an enhanced tomato, one that thrives in diverse climates and has benefits for both growers and consumers.

The International Solanaceae Genome Initiative is one of the largest plant genomics projects awarded by NSF. Tomatoes, corn and switchgrass are just some of the focus areas of the $100 million NSF program.

The United States is responsible for sequencing chromosome 1 and 10 of the Heinz 1703 tomato genome. This variety of Heinz tomato is used by tomato growers around the world and is the basis for all plant genomic studies.

In 1994, sequencing the human genome cost about $3 billion and took over 10 years because it was done manually. With advances in technology and robotics equipment, sequencing the tomato genome can be done faster for less. OU's ACGT group has been instrumental in developing new methods for sequencing DNA and advancing the science to where it is today.

This study and others funded as part of the NSF plant genomics program fill a particular void in this area of plant genomics research. As with the human genome project, the OU ACGT group will play an important role as an international collaborator and contributor in the sequencing of the Heinz 1703 tomato genome. And as a result, the research will have worldwide implications beyond the scientific community.
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University of Oklahoma

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