Researchers Finish Most Comprehensive Genetic Analysis of Corn Yet

The collaborative work of an international team of scientists at 17 institutions has resulted in the most comprehensive analysis to date of the corn genome. That’s according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service. USDA says the achievement is expected to boost international efforts to increase yields, expand areas where the crop can be cultivated and speed the development of improved varieties that are better equipped to resist pests and disease. ARS Administrator Edward Knipling says the work represents a major step forward and an important tool in the arsenal available to scientists and breeders for improving a vital source of nutrition and fuel in the face of changing climates, growing populations and a diminishing supply of arable land.

Two separate reports have been published that shed light on the genetic diversity of corn, reveal its evolution and outline how it continues to diversify as it adapts to changing climates and habitats. One of the reports examines the genetic structure and the relationships and sequential ordering of individual genes in more than 100 varieties of wild and domesticated corn. The research expands on a study published in 2009 that provided a genetic blueprint of the corn genome and identified roughly one-million genetic markers. This time – with a sophisticated, population-genetics scoring model – the lead author and his colleagues identified 55-million markers.

The second report provides a glimpse at the evolution of corn. The lead author and his colleagues compared wild varieties with traditional varieties from across the Americas and with modern improved breeding lines. Hundreds of genes were identified that played a role in the crop’s transformation to a cultivated crop. The researchers also show how that transition was largely achieved by ancient farmers who first domesticated the crop thousands of years ago.

DeVonna Zeug – National Corn Growers Association Research and Business Development Action Team Chair – says the information has exciting implications for corn farmers. As the information is applied to the development of new corn hybrids – she says farmers will see a wider selection of improved traits at a faster pace. She says the developments in the lab will yield real-world results in the field.

Source: NAFB News Service

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