'A-maize-ing' discovery could lead to higher corn yields for food, feed and fuel

Mar 25, 2010

Scientists may have made an "a-maize-ing" discovery that could lead to higher corn yields in the United States. In a new research report published in the March 2010 issue of the journal Genetics, scientists used tropical maize from Mexico and Thailand to discover chromosome regions responsible for detecting seasonal changes in flowering time (called the "photoperiod response"). This discovery may lead to higher crop yields, improved disease resistance, and heartier plants able to withstand severe weather. As one of the United States' largest crops, corn is used for food, feed, sweetener, fuel, plastics, and more.

"Photoperiod response is the major barrier to using tropical maize for the improvement of temperate maize varieties," said James B. Holland, Ph.D, a researcher involved in the work from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Plant Science Research Unit at North Carolina State University. "By understanding the genetics of this barrier, we hope to be able to overcome it more quickly to broaden the of temperate maize."

To discover these important regions of the plant's genome, researchers interbred two tropical, photoperiod-sensitive corn lines (one from Mexico; one from Thailand) with two photoperiod-insensitive corn lines from the United States, and grew out hundreds of progeny lines in North Carolina (long day-length summers) and in Florida (short day-length winters). Lines with strong photoperiod response were identified as those flowering much later in North Carolina, compared to Florida. Researchers then genetically mapped all of the lines and identified DNA markers associated with the photoperiod response. The genomic regions carrying the major photoperiod response genes were then identified.

In addition to allowing for improved strains of domestic corn, the research also is important because it suggests that the genes controlling the photoperiod response in corn are at least partly distinct than those believed to control photoperiod response in model plant species such as Arabidopsis (Mustard Weed) and rice. Future studies to pinpoint specific genes involved in the photoperiod response, however, will be necessary to draw definitive conclusions. The results of these future studies should lead to a better understanding of the extent of shared genetic pathways among distinct plant species and provide insights into how such pathways evolve. Ultimately this knowledge could have significant implications for agricultural species around the world.

"Corn is obviously an important crop, and geneticists and plant breeders are always looking for ways to improve it," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics. "This research may help us coax even more production out of this 'a-maize-ing' plant."

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More information: Nathan D. Coles, Michael D. McMullen, Peter J. Balint-Kurti, Richard C. Pratt, and James B. Holland. Genetic Control of Photoperiod Sensitivity in Maize Revealed by Joint Multiple Population Analysis. Genetics 2010 184: 799-812. http://www.genetics.org

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User comments : 6

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1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
As long as you label the food as genetically modified, you can do whatever you want. but you don't, so stop messing with the food supply without telling people.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
ALL corn/maize is genetically modified teosinte, all of it! If it is corn and edible then it was teosinte.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
What I don't understand is that no one has bothered(to my knowledge) to try to modify the maize genome to include nitrogen fixing ability in the root structure.
That would make it possible to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for expensive, polluting nitrogen fertilizer use. Which would be a hugely beneficial development, except, of course, for the Petrocompanies- oh, yeah- I forgot...
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
Every new feature implemented into GMO artificially could spread in life environment by horizontal gene transfer in incontrollable way, thus leading into formation of resistant weeds

In gradient driven reality the speed of change is crucial for adaptation of GMO in both organism, both life environment. We cannot eat toxins of food bacteria from GMO maze without deep confusion of your immune system, which was used to fight with it for many generations.


Analogously, artificially changed genes are unstable in genotype and they tend to spread into life environment by mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer in uncontrollable way a much more easily, than the genes, which were stabilized by long term evolution of species. Such volatile genes are behaving like fast growing dusty sediment, whereas slowly growing sediment are much more compact and resistant to erosion.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2010
Satan Spawn! Corn should be left as God intended when he rose it from the desert in Gomorrah! The blessed corn we eat today is the same that Moses carried across the Red Sea. Corn is the one true substance that has never changed! Fire and slaughter to the defilers of our corn. May its neverchanging size and content remain unspoiled.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2010
Fire and brimstone aside, there are plenty of legitimate fears regarding the genetic modification, through direct genome manipulation, of flora and fauna, and our food crops, in this case, specifically.

First and foremost are those pesky "unintended consequences", and running neck-and-neck with that concern is the corporate ownership(!!!) of the strains that are developed, and which then replace non-modified, traditional strains.

This process occurs right down to the small-scale family farmer or gardener- since these strains are engineered to be annuals, you can't save seed from one season to the next- you HAVE TO BUY IT. As BigAgro continues to spread, fewer and fewer farmers/gardeners conserve the unmodified seed stock. This creates a bottleneck in seed supply, and a single new, virulent crop disease could destroy most, or all of a particular GM crop(s).
Since it takes a long time to generate seeds from a limited stock of plants, how many would starve as a result?

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