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[DHAKA] Bangladeshi scientists have cracked the genome of white jute (Corchorus capsularis), raising hopes that the breakthrough will help improve a natural fibre that is second in importance only to cotton.
The mapping of the genome was described as a "great success for Bangladesh" by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed when she officially announced it at a press conference in Dhaka this month (18 August). 
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of jute after India and the world’s biggest exporter of the 'golden fibre'. On average, Bangladesh exports US$ one billion worth of jute and jute products each year.
Research leader Maqsudul Alam tells SciDev.Net that he and his team at the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute are planning to get international certification for their work by having it published in reputed scientific journals.
In 2010, Alam and his team had mapped the genome sequence of the 'tosha' variety of jute (C. olitorius). Last year, the team decoded the genome of a fungus that blights jute and other valuable crops such as rice, cotton, maize and soybean.
Alam, who is director of advanced studies in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics, College of Natural Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, is also credited with decoding the genome of papaya and rubber plants.
Ashiqur Rahman, assistant professor, department of environmental science and management, North South University, says gene sequencing could help genetic modification to produce jute varieties with desirable attributes." These include varieties with longer fibres, different colours and resistance to salinity and pests."  
A genome consists of the entire genetic material of a plant or organism, and sequencing allows scientists to readily identify genes that are responsible for particular characteristics and also for vital functions such as maintaining life and propagation.  
According to Bhupendra Singh, secretary-general, International Jute Study Group, Dhaka, said the development could help the South Asian jute industry. Singh told SciDev.Net that about 20—30 per cent of jute was damaged by insects and so there was a need to develop pest-resistant varieties.
Rahman said the achievement, apart from its commercial value, could serve as an inspiration to young scientists in Bangladesh to work on research projects to improve other important agricultural crops.