Scientists at UA, Collaborating Institutions Decode Maize Genome

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Maize, which was domesticated over the past 10,000 years from a grass called “teosinte” native to Central America, is one of the world’s most important food crops. Last year in the United States alone, 12 billion bushels of maize grown on 86 million acres of land was valued at $47 billion. Improved crops are needed because agriculturists are challenged to grow more crops on less land, with less water, and on poorer soil. Such efforts are urgent: The United Nations predicts that world food output must grow by 70 percent over the next four decades to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people by 2050.

Description of Action: 

Scientists from the University of Arizona, Washington University-St. Louis, Cold Harbor Laboratory and Iowa State University deciphered the complete genetic code of the maize plant for the first time in 2009. After four years of collaboration on the National Science Foundation-funded Maize Genome Sequencing Project, the researchers were able to provide the complete sequence and structures of maize genes and their locations, in linear order, on both the genetic and physical maps of maize. Their findings provide a “gold standard” reference for scientists working to understand the biology and evolution of maize. Scientists at the Arizona Genomics Institute and the Arizona Genomics Computational Laboratory independently led the UA’s effort to generate a set of full-length cDNAs [complementary DNA], sequences that represent about 27,000 of the maize genome complement. UA scientists also led the construction of an integrated genetic and physical map of maize in a previous NSF-funded project that began in 1998. Genetic maps show the location of genes along a single DNA molecule; physical maps also show the order and spacing of the genes. The maps served as the blueprint, or roadmap, to sequence the genome.


The decoded maize genome is available for scientists to study. See the websites below.
The Arizona team’s work provides a comprehensive foundation to systematically study maize biology with the goal of breeding higher yielding, disease-resistant and drought-tolerant cultivars. Among the more than 27,000 maize sequences independently sequenced at the UA, the team discovered about 1,600 unique maize genes – genes not found in other plant databases. These unique maize genes are priority targets for studies that will provide information to better understand the biology and production of maize and cereal crops.

Conact Name: 
Rod Wing
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Arizona Genomics Institute:

Arizona Genomics Computational Laboratory:

BIO5 Institute: