Navigation Links
Plant scientists at CSHL demonstrate new means of boosting maize yields

Cold Spring Harbor, NY A team of plant geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has successfully demonstrated what it describes as a "simple hypothesis" for making significant increases in yields for the maize plant.

Called corn by most people in North America, modern variants of the Zea mays plant are among the indispensable food crops that feed billions of the planet's people. As global population soars beyond 6 billion and heads for an estimated 8 to 9 billion by mid-century, efforts to boost yields of essential food crops takes on ever greater potential significance.

The new findings obtained by CSHL Professor David Jackson and colleagues, published online today in Nature Genetics, represent the culmination of over a decade of research and creative thinking on how to perform genetic manipulations in maize that will have the effect of increasing the number of its seeds which most of us call kernels.

Plant growth and development depend on structures called meristems reservoirs in plants that consist of the plant version of stem cells. When prompted by genetic signals, cells in the meristem develop into the plant's organs leaves and flowers, for instance. Jackson's team has taken an interest in how quantitative variation in the pathways that regulate plant stem cells contribute to a plant's growth and yield.

"Our simple hypothesis was that an increase in the size of the inflorescence meristem the stem-cell reservoir that gives rise to flowers and ultimately, after pollination, seeds will provide more physical space for the development of the structures that mature into kernels."

Dr. Peter Bommert, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Jackson lab, performed an analytical technique on several maize variants that revealed what scientists call quantitative trait loci (QTLs): places along the chromosomes that "map" to specific complex traits such as yield. The analysis pointed to a gene that Jackson has been interested in since 2001, when he was first to clone it: a maize gene called FASCIATED EAR2 (FEA2).

Not long after cloning the gene, Jackson had a group of gifted Long Island high school students, part of a program called Partners for the Future, perform an analysis of literally thousands of maize ears. Their task was to meticulously count the number of rows of kernels on each ear. It was part of a research project that won the youths honors in the Intel Science competition. Jackson, meantime, gained important data that now has come to full fruition.

The lab's current research has now shown that by producing a weaker-than-normal version of the FEA2 gene one whose protein is mutated but still partly functional -- it is possible, as Jackson postulated, to increase meristem size, and in so doing, get a maize plant to produce ears with more rows and more kernels.

How many more? In two different crops of maize variants that the Jackson team grew in two locations with weakened versions of FEA2, the average ear had 18 to 20 rows and up to 289 kernels as compared with wild-type versions of the same varieties, with 14 to 16 rows and 256 kernels. Compared with the latter figure, the successful FEA2 mutants had a kernel yield increase of some 13%.

"We were excited to note this increase was accomplished without reducing the length of the ears or causing fasciation a deformation that tends to flatten the ears," Jackson says. Both of those characteristics, which can sharply lower yield, are prominent when FEA2 is completely missing, as the team's experiments also demonstrated.

Teosinte, the humble wild weed that Mesoamericans began to modify about 7000 years ago, beginning a process that resulted in the domestication of maize, makes only 2 rows of kernels; elite modern varieties of the plant can produce as many as 20.

A next step in the research is to cross-breed the "weak" FEA2 gene variant, or allele, associated with higher kernel yield with the best maize lines used in today's food crops to ask if it will produce a higher-yield plant.


Contact: Peter Tarr
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Related biology news :

1. Can plants be altruistic? You bet, says new CU-Boulder-led study
2. Confirmed: How plant communities endure stress
3. USDA grant advancing deadly plant disease, insect research
4. Breakthrough: How salt stops plant growth
5. Plants adapt to drought but limits are looming, study finds
6. How the protein transport machinery in the chloroplasts of higher plants developed
7. Giant tobacco plants that stay young forever
8. Invading species can extinguish native plants despite recent reports
9. Bugs need symbiotic bacteria to exploit plant seeds
10. Low extinction rates made California a refuge for diverse plant species
11. Study finds Jurassic ecosystems were similar to modern: Animals flourish among lush plants
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/29/2015)... Oct. 29, 2015  Rubicon Genomics, Inc., today ... distribution of its DNA library preparation products, including ... new ThruPLEX Plasma-seq kit. ThruPLEX Plasma-seq has been ... of NGS libraries for liquid biopsies--the analysis of ... prognostic applications in cancer and other conditions. Eurofins ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 29, 2015 Today, LifeBEAM , ... with 2XU, a global leader in technical performance ... hat with advanced bio-sensing technology. The hat will ... monitor key biometrics to improve overall training performance. ... two companies will bring together the most advanced technology, ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... SAN JOSE, Calif. , Oct. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... human interface solutions, today announced that Google has adopted ... family of touch controller solutions to power its newest ... Nexus 6P by Huawei. --> ... ecosystem partners like Google to provide strategic collaboration in ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... , ... Global Stem Cells Group Chile CEO ... America and abroad for the first Iberoamerican Convention on Aesthetic Medicine, Cosmetology and ... will present and discuss new trends in anti-aging stem cell treatments, regenerative medicine ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... 30, 2015 , ... Global Stem Cells Group announced the opening of a new ... Arica and Iquique in northern Chile. The facilities are part of GSCG’s expansion efforts in ... and techniques in stem cell medicine to patients from around the world. , The clinics ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... 1, 2015 Partnership includes an ... for the u niversity , s ... treatment s cale - up ... Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the world will ... technology. --> Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Zenith Epigenetics Corp. ("Zenith" or the ... C.W. Wong to its Board of Directors to replace ... with a wealth of experience as co-founder of Resverlogix, with ... --> --> Dr. Wong remarked, ... of directors. Zenith,s long standing expertise in epigenetics and the ...
Breaking Biology Technology: