History: Plant Genomics

How the Plant Genomics Race Was Won

In the late 1990s, as public and private organizations raced to sequence the human genome, Ceres and others began similar projects to sequence plant DNA.

The Shotgun Approach

History-GenomicsOne common approach attempted to identify plant genes by sequencing small copies of gene fragments called Expressed Sequence Tags, or ESTs. These partial sequences were reassembled using computer programs, which looked for overlapping ends to build larger sequences. This method was very fast, but had shortcomings. It was frequently difficult to define complete genes. And because the genes were reassembled predictions, they were not necessarily perfect representations of the native genes. Further, it was not possible to evaluate the complete functions of the reassembled genes.

Our Approach

Rather than sequencing partial genes, Ceres sequenced full-length copies of DNA made in the lab, called cDNA.

To make this comprehensive approach feasible, we built sophisticated high-throughput lab and information technology systems. This included relatively new scientific disciplines at the time — bioinformatics and computational biology —  as well as massive relational databases that made it possible to search and correlate all the sequences, genes, plant types and expression patterns needed to develop new plant traits.

By 2002, our techniques had proven their effectiveness and efficiency. That same year we signed the largest licensing agreement in the plant genomics industry.

Today, the sequencing work is complete and we have focused our attention on developing and commercializing new plant traits in multiple crops. We have also commercialized some of the bioinformatics tools we developed along the way, which have packaged under our Persephone software platform.