Lab harvests kernels of information

2009-02-05T00:00:00Z Lab harvests kernels of informationBy Gene Lucht Iowa Farmer Today
February 05, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Iowa Farmer Today

AMES — You wouldn’t know to look at it, but a small, non-descript building tucked into a corner of Iowa State University’s campus is home to some of the most important corn and soybean information in the world.

The Crop Genome Informatics Laboratory — a combined effort of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and ISU — houses researchers who have developed some of the most-important crop genomic databases in the world.

“The goal is to offer one-stop shopping for data (about crop genomics),” says Carolyn Lawrence, a USDA-ARS research geneticist. “We store the data and try to keep researchers in communication.”

Lawrence helps coordinate some of the efforts in this building, once known as the Agronomy Laboratory. However, her day-to-day work is working on corn genome efforts.

That may sound difficult enough, but Lawrence says work on mapping and learning more about the corn genome is a much more complex task than the public might think.

For example, many think the corn genome has been sequenced. The fact is three corn genomes have been sequenced, but there are many more out there.

Even the sequencing of those three different types doesn’t tell everything about those genomes.

There isn’t just one simple map of a genome that is the same from kernel to kernel or from field to field.

Years of research lie ahead. The good news is computer technology, as well as other new technologies, enable the process to continue.

For example, a computer database can store as much as many filing cabinets full of material and can be much more accessible to scientists around the world.

Add items, such as digital photograpy and imaging, to the mix and scientists not only can do the research easier than they could just a few years ago, but they can share that information easier.

Thus Web sites, such as, and, allOW researchers around the world to connect with fellow researchers.

Lawrence works with, which specializes in corn genomic work.

The soybean site connects soybean genome researchers. The site hosts information on gene expression.

But, these researchers at ISU only recently moved under one roof. Until a few months ago they worked in different locations on the ISU campus.

The move to this 8,000-square-foot building last year has helped because now they can discuss items easier and work together to improve their database work, Lawrence says.

The goal is to improve the genomic databases so scientists can learn and share information faster and benefit farmers through that work.

The fact these databases are housed at ISU is no accident, Lawrence adds.

For nearly 100 years the state of Iowa and ISU have been at the epicenter of corn research, she says.

“This is the place where it should happen, and it did,” she says. “When it comes to corn, this is the center of the universe.”

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