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Doubling a gene in corn results in giant biomass
Date:3/18/2009

University of Illinois plant geneticist Stephen Moose has developed a corn plant with enormous potential for biomass, literally. It yields corn that would make good silage, Moose said, due to a greater number of leaves and larger stalk, which could also make it a good energy crop.

The gene known as Glossy 15 was originally described for its role in giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen for the young plant. Without Glossy 15, seedling leaves instead appear shiny and glossy in sunlight. Further studies have shown that the main function of Glossy15 is to slow down shoot maturation. Moose wondered what would happen if they turned up the action of this gene. "What happens is that you get bigger plants, possibly because they're more sensitive to the longer days of summer. We put a corn gene back in the corn and increased its activity. So, it makes the plant slow down and gets much bigger at the end of the season."

The ears of corn have fewer seeds compared to the normal corn plant and could be a good feed for livestock. "Although there is less grain there is more sugar in the stalks, so we know the animal can eat it and they'll probably like it." This type of corn plant may fit the grass-fed beef standard, Moose said.

"The first time I did this, I thought, well, maybe the seeds just didn't get pollinated very well, so I hand pollinated these ears to make sure. I found that just like the shoot, seed development is also slower and they just don't make it all the way to the end with a plump kernel," Moose said.

He explained that the energy to make the seed goes instead into the stalk and leaves. "We had been working with this gene for awhile. We thought there would be more wax on the leaves and there was. But we also got this other benefit, that it's a lot bigger."

Moose tested his hypothesis with other corn lines and the effect was the same. "We essentially can make any corn variety bigger with
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Contact: Debra Levey Larson
dlarson@illinois.edu
217-244-2880
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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