Looking at the maize genome paper in isolation it’d be easy to wonder what all the fuss was about. The paper itself is only four pages long with (plus a page of citations), with two figures, and as awesome as figure 1 is (and it really is very, VERY awesome), it doesn’t seem like an lot for a project that represents the work of more than 150 authors over four years. But the real fruits of the maize genome project are the sequences that can be found on either maizesequence.org or maizegdb.org and additional exciting research it is already enabling. And as the result of a quirk the way genome sequence is released to the research community, we can already get a sense of some of that other research.
Many genomes are released before their publication under the conditions of an agreement called the Ford Lauterdale Policy (a name I think sounds ridiculously ominous). It boils down to the idea that as genomes are sequenced and assembled, the pre-publication data is made available to other research groups, but any publications that take advantage of whole genome analysis (the kind of science I do now) cannot be published until after the people who sequenced the genome publish it. That doesn’t mean other scientists can’t do their research and even write their papers beforehand though.
The result is something called simultaneous publication. On the same time the maize genome paper came out, a minimum of 14 other papers on maize were published in journals like PLoS Genetics, Plant Physiology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and even the same issue of Science as the maize genome paper itself. These are just the first of hundreds more research publications that will be made possible by the sequencing of the maize genome (hopefully including some written by me!) each adding incrementally (or sometimes drastically) to our understanding of the world around us and our ability to change it for the better.*
If you’re interested in checking out some of those papers, this edition of PLoS genetics has been completely taken over by maize genome papers, and the whole PLoS series of journals are open access which means you don’t have to buy a subscription or belong to a university or company that has already purchased access to read them.
*Based on the my current scientific-political theories, people on the left will consider the first of those two achievements worthy and the second unsafe and arrogant, while people on the right will consider the first a huge waste of money, but hopefully with be excited about the possibilities of the second. Myself I’m excited beyond belief about every bit of it.