How do maize plants form their ears? This question was answered by a team of
scientists from the University of Missouri led by maize geneticist Paula
McSteen through their study that helped identify the specific gene vital for
forming the ears in maize. The results of their study are published in
The research team found that the gene known as barren stalk 2 (ba2) has an
impact on the development of axillary meristems, which are special cells
that give rise to the ears. To pinpoint the genes needed to produce the
ears, the researchers looked for plants that cannot make the organ properly.
They found that plants with mutations in ba2 never make ears, thus its name.
The mutant plants do not have grooves where the ears would form, which imply
that the gene functions early, before the ear bud forms. Then the ba2 mutant
was discovered in a large genetic screen for maize plants not able to grow
ears, and the gene was identified through molecular mapping.
Additional tests further showed that ba2 is linked with other genes that
regulate ba1. Together, these findings how that ba2 is in the same molecular
signaling pathway as ba1 and the two genes work together to regulate ear