U.S. Adds $12 Million to Rice Sequencing Project

PHUKET, THAILAND--Three U.S. agencies will award grants totaling $12.3 million to help speed an international effort to sequence the rice genome. The new support, to be announced next month but outlined last week by U.S. officials at a meeting here of collaborators, will supplement a proposed big jump in spending by Japan, which is putting up the largest share of the overall funding for the 10-member consortium.

The U.S. funds are to be divided between The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, which will receive $7.1 million; and a consortium including Clemson University in South Carolina, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, which will share $5.2 million. The Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation will each contribute $6 million, and the Department of Energy will kick in $300,000. "It's very nice news," says Takuji Sasaki, director of Japan's Rice Genome Research Program.

Last month Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries requested $28 million for rice sequencing in next year's budget, double its current spending. Although their monetary contribution may be small, many Asian countries believe that being a participant is a point of national pride as well as a chance to further their scientific capabilities. "In addition to funding rice sequencing, the [Thai] government is about to launch an effort that will move on to functional genomics," says Apichart Vanavichit, a molecular biologist at Thailand's National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Nakorn Pathom, which is helping to sequence chromosome 9. "At the end of 5 years, Thailand will have a new [tool] for its rice-breeding programs."

Even with the additional resources, though, Sasaki says he "can't promise" to complete the sequencing by 2004. For one, the Canadian and the United Kingdom governments have not yet committed money, although groups there are interested in sequencing. And outside China and Japan, the other Asian groups are expected to contribute minimal amounts of sequence data because their genomics efforts are just getting off the ground.