Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stronger corn? Take it off steroids, make it all female

01.12.2011
A Purdue University researcher has taken corn off steroids and found that the results might lead to improvements in that and other crops.

Burkhard Schulz, an assistant professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, wanted to understand the relationship between natural brassinosteroids - a natural plant steroid hormone - and plant architecture, specifically plant height. Schulz said corn could benefit by becoming shorter and sturdier, but the mechanisms that control those traits are not completely understood.

"It is essential to change the architecture of plants to minimize how much land we need to produce food and fuels," said Schulz, whose findings are published in the early online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "If you can find a natural mutation or mechanism that gives you what you need, you are much better off than using transgenic techniques that could be difficult to get approval for."

Schulz found that when maize loses the ability to produce brassinosteroids, it becomes a dwarf, as he suspected. But another feature caught him off guard: The plants without the naturally occurring steroids could not make male organs - they had kernels where the tassels should be.

That could be a cost-saving discovery for the seed industry. Hybrid seed producers must painstakingly remove the male pollen-producing tassels from each plant so that they do not pollinate themselves. Schulz said maize plants that produce only female organs would eliminate the detasseling step.

"This would be the perfect mutation for hybrid seed production," Schulz said. "There is no way these plants could produce pollen because they do not have male flowers."

Schulz used a multistep process to determine brassinosteroids' role in height and, later, sex determination. He wanted to ensure that light and the addition of gibberelic acid, a hormone that promotes cell growth and elongation, would not eliminate the dwarfism.

Schulz gathered known mutants of maize with short mesocotyls, the first node on a corn stalk. He suspected that even dwarf plants that produced brassinosteroids would have elongated mesocotyls if grown in the dark as they stretched for light, a trait typical of all brassinosteroid mutants. He also added gibberellic acid to the plants to ensure that a deficiency of that hormone was not causing the dwarfism.

The dwarf plants that did not grow in the dark or with the addition of the gibberellic acid were compared to regular maize plants that had been dwarfed by subjecting them to a chemical that disrupts the creation of brassinosteroids. Both exhibited short stalks with twisted leaves and showed the feminization of the male tassel flower.

Schulz then used information that was already known from the research plant Arabidopsis about genes that control brassinosteroid production. He found the same genes in the maize genome.

In the dwarf maize plants, those genes were mutated, disrupting the biosynthesis of the steroids. A chemical analysis showed that the compounds produced along the pathway of gene to steroid were greatly diminished in the maize dwarfs. Cloning of the gene revealed that an enzyme of the brassinosteroid pathway was defective in the mutant plants. A related enzyme in humans has been reported as essential for the production of the sex steroid hormone testosterone. Mutations in this enzyme in humans also resulted in feminization.

While Schulz expected brassinosteroids to affect plant height, he said he did not expect those steroids to affect sex determination.

"We don't know if this is a special case for corn or if this is generally the same in other plants," he said. "If it is the same in other plants, it should be useful for creating plants or trees in which you want only males or females."

Gurmukh Johal, a professor of botany and plant pathology and collaborator on the research, identified the mutant used in the research, nana plant1, years ago. He said better understanding the steroid-production pathways could be important to strengthening maize plants and increasing yields.

"Maize produces too much pollen and it actually wastes a lot of energy on that," Johal said. "This implies that by using this gene or the pathway it controls, we could manipulate the plants to improve their quality."

Schulz said he would look at other plants, such as sorghum, to determine if the same genes and pathways control sex determination and height.

The project was an international collaboration with George Chuck from the Plant Gene Expression Center at the University of California Berkeley, Shozo Fujioka of RIKEN Advanced Science Institute in Japan, Sunghwa Choe of Seoul National University in South Korea, and Devi Prasad Potluri of Chicago State University.

The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the research.

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, bwallhei@purdue.edu

Sources: Burkhard Schulz, 765-496-3635, bschulz@purdue.edu
Gurmukh Johal, 765-494-4448, gjohal@purdue.edu

Brian Wallheimer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.purdue.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

nachricht Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

Leipzig HTP-Forum discusses "hydrothermal processes" as a key technology for a biobased economy

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers create new technique for manipulating polarization of terahertz radiation

20.07.2017 | Information Technology

High-tech sensing illuminates concrete stress testing

20.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

First direct observation and measurement of ultra-fast moving vortices in superconductors

20.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>