Syngenta opens the field on rice DNA

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The Independent Online

Syngenta, the Anglo-Swiss biotechnology group, is proposing an international public/private collaboration to map the entire genome of rice, and place the finished product freely in the public domain.

The company's surprise move follows its decision last week to make all of its current research on rice freely available to academics and other non-profit researchers. But the announcement attracted criticism from leading geneticists, who argued that Syngenta's plans did not go far enough because the work was not being filed at Genbank, the international repository of shared genetic information.

Mapping the rice genome is crucial: it is the staple crop of half the world, and farmers everywhere are desperate for hardier breeds. "We believe that the future of agriculture will be navigated using the rice-gene map," said a Syngenta spokesman.

The new collaboration proposal, which some see as Syngenta's answer to its critics, is hoped to do for rice what the Human Genome Project did for research into our DNA. By letting public and private researchers work together on this project, it was completed much sooner than forecast. As the whole human genome map was then made freely available, it is acknowledged that the global pace of research was hugely increased.

At present, Syngenta's draft map of the rice genome is 99.8 per cent accurate. By launching an international collaboration, the research community would be able to achieve 99.999 per cent accuracy – a project that could take a year.