Swept up by the genetic research boom, a Senate panel has endorsed an ambitious program put forward by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sequence the genes of important food sources. USDA officials are touting a 4-year, $200-million effort to study the genetic makeup of plants, animals, and commercially valuable microbes.
Last month the Senate Agriculture Committee backed legislation that would create a National Food Genome Strategy as part of the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, a $780-million, 5-year research program financed with money taken from other USDA activities. The bill is short on specifics, but University of Minnesota, St. Paul, plant geneticist Ronald L. Phillips, who is also chief scientist for the $100-million-a-year competitive grants program at USDA, says the new genome program would focus on animals--including cattle, pigs, chickens, and sheep--crop plants, and agriculturally important microbes such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria and disease-causing organisms.
Phillips says the idea was first proposed as a corn sequencing effort by the Corn Growers Association and then modified by land-grant university lobbyists to include other genomes. A similar program, called the Plant Genome Initiative, has been inserted into the 1998 budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) (Science , 25 July, p. 470).
NSF officials are hoping that legislators will scale back Bond's proposal next month in conference. And USDA's initiative has even farther to go before it becomes law. The bill--which provides a roadmap but no cash--has not yet been scheduled for floor action in the Senate, and as yet there is no companion bill in the House. Still, a Senate staffer is optimistic about the initiative's chances, saying the bill enjoys "broad support."