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Corn: Many active genes - high yield
Date:12/4/2012

Hybrid plants provide much higher yield than their homozygous parents. Plant breeders have known this for more than 100 years and used this effect called heterosis for richer harvests. Until now, science has puzzled over the molecular processes underlying this phenomenon. Researchers at the University of Bonn and partners from Tbingen and the USA have now decoded one possible mechanism in corn roots. More genes are active in hybrid plants than in their homozygous parents. This might increase growth and yield of the corn plants. The results are published in the renowned scientific journal Genome Research.

The world population continues to grow and needs to be fed. Cereals provide more than 70 per cent of human nutritional energy. Their yield increases significantly when plant breeders make use of the heterosis effect: "Heterozygous hybrids are significantly more vigorous than homozygous varieties" says Prof. Dr. Frank Hochholdinger, chair of Crop Functional Genomics at the University of Bonn. Heterosis can double the yield of grains like corn or rye. Hence, a hybrid corn cob is usually much larger than that of a homozygous plant.

Molecular causes elusive

Homozygous plants are a result of inbreeding depression: yield shrinks with every generation. Hence, most of the corn grown in Europe and the USA are hybrids. But why are hybrid plants more efficient than their homozygous relatives? "This effect has been known for over 100 years, yet its molecular cause remained unknown until now" reports first author Dr. Anja Paschold, associate of Prof. Hochholdinger at the Institute for Crop Science and Resource Conservation. The findings of the research team now support at a molecular level the complementation model hypothesized in 1917, which suggests that beneficial heritable characters from both parental lines complement deleterious or absent characters in the hybrid plant.

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Contact: Prof. Dr. Frank Hochholdinger
hochhold@uni-bonn.de
0049-228-736-0334
University of Bonn
Source:Eurekalert  

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