"Without plants, we’d be in serious trouble."
--Preface to "Achievements of the National Plant Genome Initiative and New Horizons in Plant Biology," National Research Council, January 2008.
Two months ago, the draft sequence of the castor bean, Ricinus communis, was published to some fanfare, earning a spot as the cover article of Nature Biotechnology. Of course, the sequence itself had already been shared before publication, with continuous updating and annotation. It is one of 21 publicly available plant genomes—a list that includes grapes, corn, apple, sorghum, cucumber, cassava, rice, cacao, peach, papaya, and soybean. The other nine are: five model organisms—two varieties of Arabidopsis, a grass (Brachypodium), monkey flower, and one legume (Medicago)—as well as moss, spikemoss, poplar, and green algae.
For an exceedingly diverse plant world, the selection of which plants to sequence reveals the two major drivers of whole-genome sequencing in plants: agricultural productivity and scientific curiosity. With sequencing technology becoming faster, cheaper, and more exciting (sequence a billion bases a day—imagine that), whole-genome sequencing is well on its way from cutting-edge to customary. But how does one decide which plant to sequence, and what good will come of it?