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Good parents are predictable -- at least when it comes to corn
Date:1/15/2012

oday that there is no single gene which determines whether a stalk of corn will grow up strong or produce lots of kernels on the cob. Instead there are numerous sequences in its DNA which all contribute to the plant's development. We can now examine up to 56,000 of these sequences using the latest techniques in genome analysis", Riedelsheimer explains.

The analysis does not involve modifying the DNA, but rather creating a unique profile of each parent, a so-called "genome profile" or "genetic fingerprint".

To analyse the fingerprint, scientists have spent the past three years and more planting, cross-breeding, analysing chromosomes and recording yields. The observations in the field have been used to develop a mathematical-statistical model which can be used to predict a parent's genetic potency.

Trick Nr. 2: Early selection

The composition of the leaves is a second indicator of which plants make for especially good parents. More specifically, it is about the amounts of starch, sugar, amino acids, chlorophyll and other substances. As with the genetic information, this data allows for a statistical prognosis of a plant's breeding capabilities.

Tests can be conducted to find out the levels shortly after the seeds have been sown, when the plantlets are roughly three weeks old and 20 cm tall. Compared with analysing the plant's genetic structure, taking samples in the field is rather an athletic activity. "The plant's metabolism varies constantly throughout the course of a day and that makes it necessary to collect the leaves quickly and shock freeze the samples immediately", says Riedelsheimer. "All in all we collected 6,000 samples- in just 69 minutes!"

For the technically-challenging task of analysing the substances, plant breeders work in collaboration with experts from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm. The rest involves cutting-edge statistics. "Similar to the DNA
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Contact: Albrecht E. Melchinger
melchinger@uni-hohenheim.de
49-071-145-922-3488
University of Hohenheim
Source:Eurekalert  

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