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March 14, 2008

Spring Presidential University Lecture

An update on genomics

by Dan Kuester, News Service

Mapping the corn genome, says Patrick Schnable, director of the Center for Plant Genomics, "is similar to Lewis and Clark exploring the Louisiana Purchase."

President Thomas Jefferson bought all this land west of the Mississippi and needed to know what was there and how to use it, he explained.

Explaining possible uses of the corn genome map, other genomes and the future of genome research are the subject of Schnable's Spring 2008 Presidential University Lecture, "Exploring Crop Genomes, Advancing Crop Improvement" at 8 p.m., March 31, in the Memorial Union Sun Room. It's free and open to the public.

Schnable is a participant in the Maize Genome Sequencing Consortium, which presented some of its findings at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics Conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

"In addition to enabling the genetic improvement of crops and livestock, genome sequencing projects are having enormous impacts on many other disciplines, including basic biology, economics, policy, climate change and human nutrition," Schnable said.

He believes mapping genomes will become more commonplace in the future. Right now there is "revolutionary sequencing technology that will map genomes faster and cost 10 percent of what it now costs," Schnable said. Iowa State is in line to purchase the new technology, he added.

To provide a sense of the impact these technologies will have on science, Schnable related the sequencing of the genome of an extinct animal.

Scientists in Siberia have discovered carcasses of wooly mammoths that had been frozen for more than 10,000 years, he said. Using one of the new sequencing technologies, it was possible to sequence the genome of one of these extinct animals.

And by sequencing the genes associated with a mammoth's tooth, it was possible to determine which plants and microbes the animal had eaten just prior to its death. So this genome sequencing project provided information about what other species were alive at the time of the mammoth's death.

In addition to leading the Center for Plant Genomics, Schnable is associate director of the Plant Sciences Institute, director of the Center for Carbon Capturing Crops and the Baker Professor of Agronomy.

President Gregory Geoffroy created the Presidential University Lecture Series in 2003 to highlight the expertise and excellence of Iowa State faculty.

Patrick Schnable

Photo by Bob Elbert.


Spring 2008 Presidential University Lecture

"Exploring Crop Genomes, Advancing Crop Improvement," by Patrick Schnable

March 31, 8 p.m., Memorial Union Sun Room