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Syngenta to release rice genome data

Syngenta's rice genome findings could be used by humanitarian organisations

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss biotech firm, Syngenta, says it is to make public its research into the rice genome to help scientists improve vital crops for the world's poor.

The company said the data - mainly in the form of a map of the genome - would be accessible to academic institutions, non-profit organisations and governments around the world.

The move has provoked criticism in some circles, since the research will not be made available to international public databases, such as GenBank.

It will be presented instead on Syngenta's own Internet site to which conditions of access will apply.

The decision to publish the data was welcomed by Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "By making this information available in the public domain, we are taking a major step in the right direction," he said.

However, Pinstrup-Andersen conceded that Syngenta could be risking bad publicity by refusing to publish the rice DNA information through Genbank - a move, which has increased speculation that access to the data may be more restricted than previously expected.

Rice genome

The information on the rice genome is expected to pave the way for the addition of nutrients to rice and similar crops, like corn and wheat, which have evolved from wild grasses.

It could also be used to improve the resistance of crops to drought and pests - both of which are among the main causes of food shortages in less developed countries.

Syngenta says it will expect competitors to pay for access to the research data if it is to be used for commercial purposes.

Publication of the rice genome data comes two years after one of Syngenta's competitors, Monsanto, opened its research on rice to the public.

Scientific researchers have so far completed a rough guide to the rice genome. A detailed map of the genome could take a further 18 months of study, according to Steven Briggs, who heads Syngenta's San Diego-based Torrey Mesa Research Institute.

Field tests on the new data are to begin this summer.

swissinfo with agencies


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