While nearly everyone around the world eats corn, not everyone knows that
the crop is extremely sensitive to cold weather because it is a tropical
plant. Now a research team at the Boyce Thompson Institute led by David
Stern has taken a step closer to developing a new type of corn that can
recover quickly after a cold snap.
The study, described in a paper published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, is
built on research published in 2018 which showed that increasing levels of
the enzyme Rubisco in corn led to bigger and faster-maturing plants. Stern
and his team grew corn plants for three weeks at 25°C (77°F), lowered the
temperature to 14°C (57°F) for two weeks, and then increased it back up to
25°C. The team found that the corn with more Rubisco performed better than
regular corn before, during and after chilling. "In essence, we were able to
reduce the severity of chilling stress and allow for a more rapid recovery,"
said Coralie Salesse-Smith, the paper's first author.
Compared to regular corn, the engineered corn had higher photosynthesis
rates throughout the experiment and recovered more quickly from the chilling
stress with less damage to the molecules that perform the light-dependent
reactions of photosynthesis. The research team had a plant that grew taller
and developed mature corn ears more quickly after a cold spell.