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Good parents are predictable -- at least when it comes to corn

profile, it is not the individual substances which are important for making predictions, but rather how these substances stand in relation to one another", Riedelsheimer explains.

New technology saves time, money and expensive acreage

"This new technique allows us to select the most promising parents with high accuracy and to focus all of our resources on these", says Prof. Dr. Melchinger.

This method also saves cultivatable land, which, in turn, saves money. "In order to test all possible crosses, we would have to plant corn on half of the earth's surface", a utopian, if not an expensive undertaking. "A single field plot costs us 50 euros. We test on two plots per genotype at ten different locations, making a total of 1,000 euros", Prof. Dr. Melchinger explains. An analysis of the genome using a chip and a robot costs approximately 150 euros.

Impressive as well is the amount of time saved. DNA analysis of the kernels can be conducted during the winter months. Meanwhile, the plantlets to be analysed for their substance composition grow in the greenhouse. As a result, the best parent plants can be chosen and cultivated that same year.

Paradigm shift opens door to new research approaches

Nonetheless, it will take another few years until the new breed is ready. Breeders worldwide also know another trick, especially when it comes to corn. One that has been around for decades.

Prof. Dr. Melchinger describes a paradoxical phenomenon: "With corn, the offspring tend to be especially large when the parents stem from generations of in-breeding." Experts speak of "heterosis", hobby gardeners of "hybrids".

The most promising parent plants are sorted out and self-pollinated over many generations. Only then does cross-pollination take place in preparation for the sowing of the new hybrid variety.

Heterosis as a biological phenomenon has yet to be fully researched in detai

Contact: Albrecht E. Melchinger
University of Hohenheim

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