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October 30th, 2008
AMES, Iowa - The largest cluster of plant databases in the nation has a new home, the Crop Genome Informatics Laboratory, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Iowa State University facility.
The building housing the center was recently renovated and formerly known as the Agronomy Laboratory. The center houses 25 researchers from both Iowa State and the USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit under one roof. Previously the scientists were scattered in different offices across campus.
The 8,000 square-foot building now includes the MaizeGDB (Maize Genetics and Genomics Database), PlantGDB (Plant Genome Database), Soybase and the Soybean Breeder's Toolbox and the PLEXdb (Plant Expression Database). Each database is a tool that provides biological information as well as gene data about specific agronomic traits. The databases are available to researchers on campus and around the world.
The goal of the center is to enhance communication and collaboration among scientists says Carolyn Lawrence, a USDA-ARS research geneticist and assistant professor in genetics, development and cell biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Lawrence, who coordinates the facility, said there are advantages to having scientists studying similar topics under one roof.
"Things are happening a little faster," Lawrence said. "There's something to be said about using technology to communicate but it's easier to communicate now that we are all in one building."
The building also has resources for teleconferencing and space to train database users on and off campus.
"Our goal is to advance the science of bioinformatics to the point that we can utilize these huge databases for the benefit of other researchers," said Les Lewis, former research leader of the Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit and chair of the Iowa State entomology department. "The bottom line is to benefit farmers who are growing soybeans, corn, barley and other crops."
The USDA has been working on plant breeding and genetics on the Iowa State campus since 1922. Crop and plant biological data have been collected over the years and put into databases, which have continued to grow and evolve. The basis for Iowa State's current plant database recognition and funding are the Zea mays Database (ZmDB), BarleyBase and Soybase.
Funding for the renovation included $225,000 from the Agriculture Research Service, $150,000 from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, $100,000 from the Plant Sciences Institute, $85,000 from the agronomy department and $25,000 from the genetics, development and cell biology department.