(Posted Mon. Jun 4th, 2012)
June 4: The research journal Nature Genetics published two manuscripts this week offering an unprecedented glimpse into the diversity of modern corn in their online edition. Gathered through the U.S. Maize Diversity Project, the information in these studies provides important data that will aid breeders and geneticists in efforts to develop improved traits.
“The information in these studies has very exciting implications for corn farmers,” said National Corn Growers Association Research and Business Development Action Team Chair DeVonna Zeug. “As research and development facilities across the country, such as the proposed National Agricultural Genotyping Center, apply this information to the development of new corn hybrids, farmers will see a wider selection of improved traits at a much more rapid pace. These developments in the lab will yield real-world results in the field.”
The first study will allow scientists to identify variations that have allowed corn to adapt to a wide array of environmental stresses, including drought, heat, and pathogens. Through the identification of more than 55 million genetic markers, this study shows that the maize genome is in constant flux, and that maize genomes vary significantly in size. The data presented here will help scientists, over the next decade, expedite the genetic location of valuable traits and use this information in the improvement of corn hybrids.
The second study identified more than 1,000 genes critical to the domestication of corn, which will allow geneticists to better focus research on the understanding and improvement of these specific genes. This comparative look at maize evolution during domestication and subsequent breeding shows the striking transformation that maize has undergone to reach its modern state from its wild progenitor. Remarkably, the data revealed the strong selection process applied by ancient farmers thousands of years ago to bring about this change. Scientists can use this data to more precisely and swiftly develop tools to address growing global demand, either by genetic manipulation or the use of rare natural variation.
The U.S. Maize Diversity Project, which involves collaborators from around the world, has sequenced and analyzed more than 100 genomes of wild and domesticated corn. In doing so, it has revealed the remarkable diversity present in the world’s top production crop. This project is funded through a partnership between the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.