WASHINGTON-In an ambitious answer to the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has sprouted plans for a parallel project to map the genetic structure of key food plants. The proposal, presented by USDA program manager Jerome Miksche at a meeting of the NIH genome project's advisory committee in June, would identify genetic traits that can increase yield and disease resistance. The price tag is estimated to be $500 million over 10 years.

In recent months the agency has created a new Office of Plant Genome Mapping within its Agricultural Research Service (ARS). At its helm is Miksche, national program manager at ARS. State and federal agencies spend about $10 million annually on plant genome research, about a third of which comes from USDA. The new proposal would boost USDA's contribution nearly 15-fold, to an estimated $50 million yearly.

Although plans are still preliminary, many...

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