Science Current Events | Science News |

Plant scientists at CSHL demonstrate new means of boosting maize yields

February 04, 2013

Cold Spring Harbor, NY - A team of plant geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has successfully demonstrated what it describes as a "simple hypothesis" for making significant increases in yields for the maize plant.

Called corn by most people in North America, modern variants of the Zea mays plant are among the indispensable food crops that feed billions of the planet's people. As global population soars beyond 6 billion and heads for an estimated 8 to 9 billion by mid-century, efforts to boost yields of essential food crops takes on ever greater potential significance.

The new findings obtained by CSHL Professor David Jackson and colleagues, published online today in Nature Genetics, represent the culmination of over a decade of research and creative thinking on how to perform genetic manipulations in maize that will have the effect of increasing the number of its seeds - which most of us call kernels.

Plant growth and development depend on structures called meristems - reservoirs in plants that consist of the plant version of stem cells. When prompted by genetic signals, cells in the meristem develop into the plant's organs - leaves and flowers, for instance. Jackson's team has taken an interest in how quantitative variation in the pathways that regulate plant stem cells contribute to a plant's growth and yield.

"Our simple hypothesis was that an increase in the size of the inflorescence meristem - the stem-cell reservoir that gives rise to flowers and ultimately, after pollination, seeds - will provide more physical space for the development of the structures that mature into kernels."

Dr. Peter Bommert, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Jackson lab, performed an analytical technique on several maize variants that revealed what scientists call quantitative trait loci (QTLs): places along the chromosomes that "map" to specific complex traits such as yield. The analysis pointed to a gene that Jackson has been interested in since 2001, when he was first to clone it: a maize gene called FASCIATED EAR2 (FEA2).

Not long after cloning the gene, Jackson had a group of gifted Long Island high school students, part of a program called Partners for the Future, perform an analysis of literally thousands of maize ears. Their task was to meticulously count the number of rows of kernels on each ear. It was part of a research project that won the youths honors in the Intel Science competition. Jackson, meantime, gained important data that now has come to full fruition.

The lab's current research has now shown that by producing a weaker-than-normal version of the FEA2 gene - one whose protein is mutated but still partly functional -- it is possible, as Jackson postulated, to increase meristem size, and in so doing, get a maize plant to produce ears with more rows and more kernels.

How many more? In two different crops of maize variants that the Jackson team grew in two locations with weakened versions of FEA2, the average ear had 18 to 20 rows and up to 289 kernels - as compared with wild-type versions of the same varieties, with 14 to 16 rows and 256 kernels. Compared with the latter figure, the successful FEA2 mutants had a kernel yield increase of some 13%.

"We were excited to note this increase was accomplished without reducing the length of the ears or causing fasciation - a deformation that tends to flatten the ears," Jackson says. Both of those characteristics, which can sharply lower yield, are prominent when FEA2 is completely missing, as the team's experiments also demonstrated.

Teosinte, the humble wild weed that Mesoamericans began to modify about 7000 years ago, beginning a process that resulted in the domestication of maize, makes only 2 rows of kernels; elite modern varieties of the plant can produce as many as 20.

A next step in the research is to cross-breed the "weak" FEA2 gene variant, or allele, associated with higher kernel yield with the best maize lines used in today's food crops to ask if it will produce a higher-yield plant.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Related Maize Current Events and Maize News Articles

Intensive farming link to bovine TB
Intensive farming practices such as larger herd size, maize growth, fewer hedgerows and the use of silage have been linked to higher risk of bovine TB, new research has concluded.

Fighting citrus greening with vibrating orange groves
When a male Asian Citrus Psyllid is looking for a mate, he situates himself on a twig, buzzes his wings to send vibrations along adjacent leaves and branches, and listens for a female's response call. If the call comes, he travels in her direction, the abbreviated insect version of courtship ensues, and two to seven weeks later, scores of psyllids nymphs emerge from their eggs, feed on phloem sap, and mature into adults who head out into the world, ravaging untold numbers of citrus trees in the process.

Reproducible research for biofuels and biogas
New research in the Open Access journal GigaScience presents a virtual package of data for biogas production, made reusable in a containerized form to allow scientists to better understand the production of biofuels.

Rice disease-resistance discovery closes the loop for scientific integrity
When disease-resistant rice is invaded by disease-causing bacteria, a small protein produced by the bacteria betrays the invader.

Producing biodegradable plastic just got cheaper and greener
Biodegradable drinking cups or vegetable wrapping foil: the bioplastic known as polylactic acid (PLA) is already a part of our everyday lives.

UGA researchers edit plant DNA using mechanism evolved in bacteria
Researchers at the University of Georgia have used a gene editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas to modify the genome of a tree species for the first time. Their research, published recently in the early online edition of the journal New Phytologist, opens the door to more rapid and reliable gene editing of plants.

Plant breeder boosts soybean diversity, develops soybean rust-resistant plant
It took decades of painstaking work, but research geneticist Ram Singh managed to cross a popular soybean variety ("Dwight" Glycine max) with a related wild perennial plant that grows like a weed in Australia, producing the first fertile soybean plants that are resistant to soybean rust, soybean cyst nematode and other pathogens of soy.

Simulating seasons
Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa, is home to 13 million people and is one of the least-developed countries in the world.

As the river rises: Cahokia's emergence and decline linked to Mississippi River flooding
As with rivers, civilizations across the world rise and fall. Sometimes, the rise and fall of rivers has something to do with it.

Fungi enhances crop roots and could be a future 'bio-fertilizer'
New research has found that the interaction of roots with a common soil fungus changes the genetic expression of rice crops -- triggering additional root growth that enables the plant to absorb more nutrients.
More Maize Current Events and Maize News Articles

Maize for the Gods: Unearthing the 9,000-Year History of Corn

Maize for the Gods: Unearthing the 9,000-Year History of Corn
by Michæl Blake (Author)

Maize is the world’s most productive food and industrial crop, grown in more than 160 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. If by some catastrophe maize were to disappear from our food supply chain, vast numbers of people would starve and global economies would rapidly collapse. How did we come to be so dependent on this one plant?

Maize for the Gods brings together new research by archaeologists, archaeobotanists, plant geneticists, and a host of other specialists to explore the complex ways that this single plant and the peoples who domesticated it came to be inextricably entangled with one another over the past nine millennia. Tracing maize from its first appearance and domestication in ancient campsites and settlements in Mexico to its intercontinental journey...

Corn Is Maize: The Gift of the Indians (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)

Corn Is Maize: The Gift of the Indians (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
by Aliki (Author), Aliki (Illustrator)

Popcorn, corn on the cob, cornbread, tacos, tamales, and tortillas—all of these and many other good things come from one amazing plant. With simple prose and beautiful illustrations, award-winning author-illustrator Aliki tells the story of how Native American farmers thousands of years ago found and nourished a wild grass plant and made corn an important part of their lives. This is a Stage 2 Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, which means the book explores more challenging concepts for children in the primary grades. Let's-Read-And-Find-Out is the winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Outstanding Science Series. Supports the Common Core Learning Standards and Next Generation Science Standards


by Sentena Books

A short story about first dates, worst fears, first kisses, and getting lost in a corn maze.

Maize: Origin, Domestication, and its Role in the Development of Culture

Maize: Origin, Domestication, and its Role in the Development of Culture
by Duccio Bonavia (Author)

This book examines one of the thorniest problems of ancient American archaeology: the origins and domestication of maize. Using a variety of scientific techniques, Duccio Bonavia explores the development of maize, its adaptation to varying climates, and its fundamental role in ancient American cultures. An appendix (by Alexander Grobman) provides the first ever comprehensive compilation of maize genetic data, correlating this data with the archaeological evidence presented throughout the book. This book provides a unique interpretation of questions of dating and evolution, supported by extensive data, following the spread of maize from South to North America, and eventually to Europe and beyond.

Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland (Heartland Foodways)

Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland (Heartland Foodways)
by Cynthia Clampitt (Author)

Food historian Cynthia Clampitt pens the epic story of what happened when Mesoamerican farmers bred a nondescript grass into a staff of life so prolific, so protean, that it represents nothing less than one of humankind's greatest achievements. Blending history with expert reportage, she traces the disparate threads that have woven corn into the fabric of our diet, politics, economy, science, and cuisine. At the same time she explores its future as a source of energy and the foundation of seemingly limitless green technologies. The result is a bourbon-to-biofuels portrait of the astonishing plant that sustains the world.

Saint Mazie: A Novel

Saint Mazie: A Novel
by Jami Attenberg (Author)

Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty--even when Prohibition kicks in--and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety...

Be Fruitful: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Fertility and Giving Birth to a Healthy Child

Be Fruitful: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Fertility and Giving Birth to a Healthy Child
by MD Victoria Maizes (Author), MD Andrew Weil (Foreword)

From an internationally recognized integrative physician, a thorough guide to fertility that encompasses all aspects of female well-being to help women prepare their bodies for easy conception, pregnancy, and the delivery of healthy babies.

The increase in environmental toxins, processed foods, and stress, as well as the advancing ages at which couples seek to have children, have made it more difficult for women to conceive. In Be Fruitful, Dr. Victoria Maizes, an expert on women’s health and the executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, delivers all the information women and their partners need in order to conceive with ease and confidence, and to bear healthy children.

Warm, friendly, and hands-on, Be Fruitful offers a comprehensive...

Red Maize

Red Maize
by Danesh Rana (Author)

In the village of Morha Madana, overlooking the Chenab, the joys of harvesting ripe maize get sullied when, one summer,gun-toting militants of the tanzeem start swarming the hills. As the militants fight in the name of azadi, the villagers lives are shaken and torn apart. Charmed by the call of jihad,Shakeel, the second of the three sons of widow Kausar Jaan,becomes the first to turn a mujahid. Soon, the dreaded area commander, Major Rathore of the Indian Army, decides that Shakeel s decimation is his only way of regaining the respect of his fellow officers and his ticket back to a peace station. Thus begins the tale of woe of his mother and brothers. Eventually Kausar Jaan becomes the symbol of Kashmir caught in the crossfire between separatists and the army.Red Maize is the poignant...

A Killer Maize (A Farmers' Market Mystery)

A Killer Maize (A Farmers' Market Mystery)
by Paige Shelton (Author)

Becca Robbins is selling her farm-made jams and preserves at a county fair where business is not the only thing that’s dead…

The last person Becca expects to run into at the Swayton County Fall Festival is her ex-husband, Scott Triplett, who’s operating a shooting gallery. Honesty was not always Scott’s policy, and their unexpected reunion is further complicated when the festival becomes a crime scene. On Becca’s second day there, Ferris wheel operator Virgil Morrison is found hanging from his rickety ride, dead from a gunshot.

As Becca starts to notice Scott suspiciously sneaking around the fairgrounds, she begins to worry her ex may be involved in the murder. Then there’s the shadow she sees in the creepy corn maze and rumors of a gypsy curse—not to mention...

Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000

Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000
by James C. McCann (Author)

Sometime around 1500 A.D., an African farmer planted a maize seed imported from the New World. That act set in motion the remarkable saga of one of the world's most influential crops--one that would transform the future of Africa and of the Atlantic world. Africa's experience with maize is distinctive but also instructive from a global perspective: experts predict that by 2020 maize will become the world's most cultivated crop. James McCann moves easily from the village level to the continental scale, from the medieval to the modern, as he explains the science of maize production and explores how the crop has imprinted itself on Africa's agrarian and urban landscapes. Today, maize accounts for more than half the calories people consume in many African countries. During the twentieth...

© 2015