Orion Genomics, a biotechnology company, and North Carolina State University have completed the first stage of a joint project to sequence the tobacco genome, and the project will continue, Orion said Wednesday.

The sequencing work is being done for Philip Morris USA, which has agreed to pay $17.6 million to NCSU. Orion is participating as a sub-contractor.

“In the initial phase of the tobacco sequencing project, we compared several different methodologies for the discovery of most of tobacco’s genes,” said Charles Opperman, professor of plant pathology and genetics at NCSU and leader of the project, in a statement. “We’ve determined that Orion’s GeneThresher technology rapidly and accurately separates coding from the so-called ‘junk DNA’ that makes up most of the tobacco genome.”

Orion said its technology should identify “up to 90 percent” of the tobacco genes.

The project was launched in 2007 and is expected to be finished by 2007.

Orion Genomics: www.oriongenomics.com