Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 13:41 UK

Crop plants get genomics centre

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Combine harvester
Genomics knowledge can reduce disease and increase harvests

Britain's biotechnology research council the BBSRC will this week open a research centre to decode the DNA of plants and animals used in agriculture.

Among its aims is to help farmers boost food production.

Research will focus on economically and socially important plants such as wheat and ryegrass.

It's also hoped that the work will lead to breeding of livestock better able to resist emerging diseases, such as Bluetongue.

Scientists at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) also hope to help develop crops with increased tolerance to drought and new antibiotics to fight 'superbugs'.

The exact projects that TGAC will initially work on will be decided by an independent advisory board but there's interest in creating sustainable biofuels and vegetables containing compounds that reduce the incidence of some cancers.

Preparedness

The institute, which will be based in Norwich, has become possible because of the falling cost of sequencing plant and animal genomes, according to the centre's director Dr Jane Rogers.

"Over the past few years the cost of sequencing has been coming down markedly. Instead of large international consortiums having to work over several years, it's now possible for individual institutes to do some of these large sequencing projects."

One of Dr Rogers' key priorities when the institute is opened on Friday will be to help breeders create new varieties of plants and animals to adapt to climate change.

"We are witnessing that the environment is changing and that's something that we need to be prepared for."

Boosting food production is one of the BBSRC's strategic priorities. Earlier this year the research council's chief executive Douglas Kell warned that the future could hold food riots unless more money was found for agricultural research.



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