Bill Tracy will help review the National Plant Genome Initiative

Over the next 6 months, CALS professor Bill Tracy will be helping to craft a blueprint for U.S. plant genomics research. Tracy, a plant breeder who specializes in corn, is one of 14 U.S. scientists appointed to undertake a review of the National Plant Genome Initiative.

The NPGI is a broad federal effort started in 1998 to further national objectives in plant biology, including agricultural and energy research. It was a driving factor in the completion of the first plant genome sequence, the subsequent sequencing of the genomes of other plant species, and the development of genomic resources and tools for plant science.

Tracy, is professor and chair in the Department of Agronomy and part of the UW-Madison’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics Program, the largest such program in the nation. He is one of only two plant breeders appointed to the review committee.

Tracy says this is an exciting time for plant breeders. While the genomes sequenced to date have been limited to only a few species, it has set the stage for dramatic improvements in a wide variety of food crops and other economically useful species, he says.

“As we get sequence information for more plant species, we can take information developed in species that have been used as genomic models, for example rice, and quickly apply that information to other crop species.

“We don’t have to re-do the same experiment in each plant species,” he adds. “This means that for all of the plant scientists working on all of the different species, the knowledge will be more interchangeable.

“Before, what a wheat person discovered may not have had much application to corn. But now we can take genomic information from rice and apply it to wheat, because the DNA sequences are conserved from species to species (a “conserved” sequence is one that has remained essentially unchanged throughout evolution, and therefore is common to many species). So we can apply such knowledge from a species such as rice, that has little economic value to Wisconsin farmers to an economic species from Wisconsin very quickly, we hope, develop new crop cultivars more quickly.”