The genome as starting point for improving an indispensable crop
Today maize is an important, if controversial, source of biomass for a wide range of industrial applications, and, very recently, a prime source of biofuel. CSHL's Ware, who is also a scientist at the USDA, has a keen interest in thinking about maize in terms of its identity as agricultural germplasm. "What we're trying to do is identify what is best -- and keep the best in the germplasm," she says. "The 'best' will vary, depending on what the environment is. What's best in Missouri is not necessarily best in Washington state. That helps explain why having a HapMap of maize will be useful for breeders in producing improved corn plants.
"We're trying to use the genome to understand not only the differences between individual lines, but also to identify what differences, in genetic terms, are still available within maize. Ideally, we'd like to understand the function of every gene. In comparing different lines, we want to find genes associated with what we call quantitative traits -- genes that affect traits of importance to agriculture, everything from the size of the seeds to when the plant flowers to whether it can tolerate drought or dampness.
"With climate change upon us, there is great need in the years ahead to adapt existing germplasm to future needs," Ware suggests. "Will we be able to grow maize 20 years from now in the same places we do today? What will we need to do to improve this extremely valuable plant?" With the reference version of the maize genome and tools like the maize HapMap now in the public domain, the search will proceed with a new intensity, made possible by a treasure trove of new data.
|Contact: Peter Tarr|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory