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The genome of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a cereal grown widely for food, animal feed, fibre and fuel, has been sequenced. Scientists say it is another milestone for plant biology.

Sorghum, a staple for large populations in the West African Sahel region, is tolerant to dry, hot conditions. Scientists hope they may now be able to discover the genetic secrets behind this characteristic.

Sorghum is also more efficient than both rice and wheat at turning carbon dioxide into energy at high temperatures. Scientists hope to gain insights into this photosynthetic pathway, known as C4, which may help them in projects to re-engineer rice to photosynthesise more efficiently.

The sequence will be used to improve crops through a host of breeding strategies. It will also illuminate efforts to develop other grass species — particularly those of the C4 variety that could be used for producing bioethanol.

More than ten plant species have now been completely sequenced.