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China Finishes its Part of Rice Gene Sequencing

More than 40 researchers from the National Center for Gene Research in Shanghai have announced that by this year's end they will have completed China's portion in sequencing the genome of a common type of Japanese rice, as part of a global project.

The work in sequencing 12 chromosomes is part of an 11-nation project to maximize the production of the staple for nearly half of the world's population.

"As of September 30, we have finished 70 percent of the overall sequencing work and are sprinting toward the final success," said Han Bin, a center scientist in charge of rice sequencing.

Japanese researchers were assigned the most work - about 40 percent - in the project, which started in 1998, followed by the United States with about 25 percent and China with 8 percent.

In the wake of the announcement by the researchers in Shanghai, Chen Zhu, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said yesterday that Chinese researchers in Beijing and Zhejiang Province had completed the sequencing of the genome of a hybrid rice. That means China is the second nation capable of unlocking a large-scale genome. The United States had previously done so.

In a related development, scientists with the academy's Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology said that they are in negotiations with their counterparts in Germany to work on a project to further unravel how potatoes and rice grow.

"We hope to zero in on functional genes in rice which decide maturity, high yield, as well as resistance to diseases and insects," said Xue Hongwei, a researcher who heads a laboratory in Shanghai that was previously established to work with the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm, near Berlin, on academic exchanges.

"By studying the rice genome, we will be able to get a lot of important information on other crops, such as wheat and potatoes, which are staples for Westerners," Xue said.

Xue said the rice genome has a relatively small scale - one-seventh of the human genome.

Therefore, scientists have more leeway in conducting experiments that are impossible on human beings, he said.

"But we also face some challenges, such as food security and the similar complexity as the human genome project in determining how genes 'talk' to each other.

"In the next three to five years, I believe Germany and Shanghai will have a lot of opportunities to achieve major findings in key projects analyzing the functional genes of rice and potatoes," said Lothar Willmitzer, director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology.

(Eastday.com 10/15/2001)

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