example, useful alterations of plant size, shape, and chemistry and the ability to use less fertilizer) and improved control of flowering and of the amount and quality of fruits and seeds produced (see Chapter 1).
Achieving the goals of breeding or producing plants with specific performance characteristics requires extensive investment in data generation, data management, and analysis infrastructures, and human capacity-building to make effective use of the data. It also requires a daunting level of intellectual growth in biologists’ perception of how genetic networks control physiological traits, how natural genetic variability in important traits within and across plant species is manifested, how environmental signals are transduced into adaptive responses, and how evolutionary processes lead to network diversification, optimization, and creation of trait novelties.
At the beginning of NPGI in 1998, there was little dedicated federal funding for plant genomics research beyond the then rapidly expanding Arabidopsis genome project and its associated research community, and various projects funded by ad hoc grants to principal investigators (PIs) from different research agencies. One exception was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Research Initiative, which awarded 86 grants in FY 1997 worth about a total of $11 million from its “Plant Genomics” grant panel. These ad hoc efforts were split among many plant species, which arguably inhibited deep strategic investment in plant biology as a whole and genomics-based crop improvement in particular.
A fair assessment of NPGI, then, would address whether and how it has contributed to the building of strong and vibrant research communities linked by common interests. If these research communities have indeed been built, have they invested in cutting-edge genomic technology, and have they performed well using those resources? The committee relied on three key documents that articulated the goals (NRC 2002; NSTC 1998, 2003) and on the advice, critiques, and summaries of discussions at a workshop featuring key academic and private sector plant genome scientists (see Appendix D for workshop agenda and speakers). The committee also used data collected from a questionnaire sent to all lead principal investigators and reviewed the yearly NPGI Progress Reports (NSTC 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007).
The 5- and 10-year goals of NPGI were noted in Chapter 1 (see also NRC 2002; NSTC 1998, 2003). Some highlights of the research aimed toward those goals are emphasized in the following sections.