Researchers Turn to Exotics to Uncover How Corn Can Adapt Faster to New Climates
A multi-institutional team led by University of Delaware plant geneticist
Randy Wisser decoded the genetic map for howm maize from tropical
environments can be adapted to the temperate U.S. summer growing season.
Wisser sees these exotic varieties, which are rarely used in breeding, as
key to creating next-era varieties of corn.
Modern maize varieties came from only a small fraction of the global maize
population. This limited infusion of diversity raises concerns about the
vulnerability of American corn in a shifting climate. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) seed bank includes tens of thousands of varieties, but
many are just not being utilized. While some exotic maize strains are better
at handling drought, waterlogging, or low nitrogen soil, they evolved
outside the U.S. and are not immediately suited to states such as Delaware.
Thus, exotics first need to be pre-adapted.
To understand how corn survives and thrives, Wisser and colleague Jim
Holland, a plant geneticist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service are
analyzing how corn genomes behave in a target environment as they aim to
formulate a predictive model for fitness. "What we're doing is sequencing
the genomes and measuring traits like flowering time or disease for
individuals in one generation," Wisser said. From this, they can generate a
lookup table to foresee which individuals in the next generation have the
best traits based on their genetic profiles. Wisser adds that their lookup
table can be tailored to predict how the individuals will behave in a
particular environment or location such as Delaware.