WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The USDA and the Department of Energy announced Monday they will share resources and coordinate the study of plant and microbial genomics. The Department of Energy will tackle the sequencing of the soybean genome as the first project resulting from the agreement.

The agreement is part of USDA's comprehensive energy strategy to help farmers and ranchers mitigate the impact of high energy costs and develop long-term solutions.

"This agreement demonstrates a joint commitment to support high-quality genomics research and integrated projects to meet the nation's agriculture and energy challenges," said Colien Hefferan, administrator of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Extension and Economics Service, who signed the agreement for USDA.

"Both agencies will leverage their expertise and synergize activities involving agricultural- and energy-related plants and microbes," said Ari Patrinos, DOE associate director of science for Biological and Environmental Research. "We will enhance coordination of proposed sequencing projects through the Biological and Environmental Research Microbial Sequencing Program or the DOE Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program."

USDA and DOE will establish a framework to cooperate and coordinate agency-relevant plant and microbial genome sequencing and bioinformatics that can serve the needs of the broader scientific community and solve problems that are important to each agency's mission. This agreement could help speed the deployment of emerging technologies, such as improved methods of gene identification and sequence assembly.

The DOE Joint Genome Institute will sequence the genome (decode the DNA) of the soybean, Glycine max, the world's most valuable legume crop. Soybean is of particular interest to DOE because it is the principal source of biodiesel, a renewable alternative fuel.

Soybean is also important to U.S. agriculture, with more than 3.1 billion bushels grown on nearly 75 million acres in 2004. The etimated annual value of the crop exceeded $17 billion. The soybean genome is about 1.1 billion base pairs in size, less than half the size of the maize or human genomes.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and for communities by supporting research, education and extension programs in the land-grant university system and other partner organizations.

DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research manages a diverse portfolio of research to develop fundamental biological information and to advance technology in support of DOE's missions in biology, medicine and the environment.

SOURCE: USDA news release.