In order to breed new varieties of corn with a higher yield faster than ever before, researchers at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, and other institutions are relying on a trick: early selection of the most promising parent plants based on their chemical and genetic makeup, as well as on new statistical analysis procedures. The work has now been published in the authoritative journal Nature Genetics on Sunday evening, Jan. 15.
The problem is the sheer number: In the family tree of modern-day corn, there are two main groups with 10,000 pure-breed lines each. Each of these lines could potentially be used for producing a new variety by means of cross-breeding. In mathematical terms, that equates to 100 billion possibilities. In terms of corn, however, a parent's performance is no indicator of what potential lies hidden in their offspring. Even the feeblest of parents can produce mighty offspring when cross-bred.
But time is of essence: Currently it takes approximately 10 years for breeders to develop a new variety. Issues such as climate change, food shortages and the increasing demand for more energy, however, are making it essential to find solutions even faster.
Prof. Dr. Albrecht Melchinger, PhD student Christian Riedelsheimer and their research partners are experimenting with a new technique to solve both problems. The best parent plants are selected in two steps, beginning when they are not even planted yet or when they are just small plantlets. This saves time and guarantees the highest rate of success right from the very start.
Trick Nr. 1: Use mathematics and experience when selecting
Riedelsheimer takes a tiny sample from a kernel of corn. Not enough to harm the kernel, but enough to get a full picture of its DNA structure. This analysis is conducted jointly by the University of Hohenheim and the IPK Gatersleben.
The rest is mathematics and experience. "We know t
|Contact: Albrecht E. Melchinger|
University of Hohenheim