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Genetics professor to lead corn pangenome project

Distinguished Research Professor Kelly Dawe in the department of genetics is principal investigator on a new project to sequence the genetic diversity of the world's largest cash crop:

When the human genome was first sequenced in 2001, the project focused on a single individual. Since that time, several new genomes have been assembled and additional genetic data have been generated for thousands of individuals, producing a more complete picture of human genetic makeup, with broad implications for human health, from biomedical science to anthropology. Now, researchers plan to begin a similar process with corn.

Though corn, or maize, is the most widely planted and most genetically diverse crop in the world, practically all genomic analysis of corn relies heavily on a single inbred line. Modern breeding efforts to improve productivity increasingly require deeper genetic variety for more marginal environments and uses, requiring a more complete understanding of maize genomic diversity.

Researchers at the University of Georgia, Iowa State University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York will work together to sequence, assemble and annotate 26 different lines chosen to represent the diversity of corn. The National Science Foundation-funded project will combine leading edge DNA sequencing technology with a technique called optical mapping to produce high-quality genome assemblies with characterization and release of the 26 lines in two years.

Great work by Dawe and colleagues both at UGA and in the corn community across the nation. Part of the backstory of this project that Dawe shared is the question of why this research is being led by researchers in Georgia, a state that doesn't cultivate corn on any scale that compares to major producers around the U.S.? The short answer: extraordinary capability developed at UGA in genetics and contiguous research areas over time. This is an enormous project that will aid breeders and growers around the globe. That it is being led by UGA faculty exemplifies the state and university commitment to important and far-reaching research activity with long-term investments in people and facilities. It takes time, great patience and diligence by successive administrations to build the level of capabilities that are now playing such broad roles in the UGA commitment to research.

Image: Distinguished Research Professor Kelly Dawe

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