Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Precision breeding needed to adapt corn to climate change, ancient samples show

04.08.2017

The US Corn Belt and European maize owe their existence to a historic change: the ability of this plant, originally from the tropics, to flower early enough to avoid winter. Research led by Cornell University in New York and the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany reveals that indigenous people in the American southwest started the process of adapting maize to temperate growing seasons 4000 years ago and refined it over the following 2000 years.

From this point onwards, it grew well enough to provide a reliable source of subsistence, mainly in stews and soups. Its nutritional content was also improved - the study finds that some of the archaeological samples had high beta-carotene yellow kernels, the earliest evidence of people eating yellow corn. The kernels were also likely to be of the popping variety.


Female flowering in one of the landrace hybrid

Credit: Kelly Swarts


Verena Schuenemann extracting ancient samples

Credit: Johannes Krause

Farmers adapted it using the genetic diversity of domesticated varieties and wild grass relatives already present in Mexico. Over time, their selections meant that varieties became dominant for gene variants that drive early flowering, enabling them to cope with a shorter growing season and different day-lengths. This took millennia to accomplish.

“We see incredible genetic variation in maize, but it took a long time to accumulate enough of the early flowering variants in the same plant to adapt to short growing seasons. A trait like flowering time is so complex that it involves changes to hundreds of genes,” says Kelly Swarts from Cornell University and now at the MPI for Developmental Biology.

The samples reveal that the first maize successfully adapted to grow in a temperate climate was short, bushy and was likely a pop-type corn compared to modern varieties, or landraces. The authors find that it helped lead to all temperate US and European maize grown today.

“Our findings show that because of its genetic diversity maize has the ability to adapt to just about anything that’s thrown at it” says Swarts. “But we won’t have the luxury of millennia to adapt maize to the environmental challenge of global warming and will need precision breeding, for example with genome-edited crops, to rapidly develop new varieties. Maintaining diversity in traditional maize landraces is also important. Precision breeding holds great promise, as long as we have a good understanding of what to target by studying the widest possible diversity.”

The scientists studied 15 maize samples extracted from fossilized maize cobs discovered in a dry cave shelter known as Turkey Pen in Utah’s Grand Gulch canyon."It was very exciting to carry out the first genetic analysis of the samples since their excavation in the 1970s,” says Hernán Burbano from the MPI for Developmental Biology. “The samples were very well-preserved in this dry environment. Although DNA fragments were short, in some samples up to 80% of the retrieved fragments were maize DNA with only a minor fraction of microbial origin. Consequently, it was possible to characterize genetic variation in each sample across the whole genome,” he says.

The authors gathered information from thousands of modern inbred maize varieties. To predict flowering in the long-dead archaeological samples, they compared the genomes of ancient and modern strains. To test whether their predictions were accurate, they developed populations from descendants of the ancient varieties and grew them to observe when they flowered.

The validation showed that the initial predictions were highly accurate. Future studies of archaeobotanical crop samples could now use the same methods. “It wasn’t thought possible to pinpoint a trait like flowering time from archaeological samples and it’s only because of recent advances in both ancient and modern genomics that we’ve been able to generate these new insights,” says Swarts.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation in the US and the Max Planck Society in Germany. It will be published on Friday 4th August in Science.

Weitere Informationen:

http://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aam9425

Sarah Hailer | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie
Further information:
http://www.fml.mpg.de

Further reports about: Biology Entwicklungsbiologie MPI Max-Planck-Institut genetic variation maize

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rochester scientists discover gene controlling genetic recombination rates
23.04.2018 | University of Rochester

nachricht One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Structured light and nanomaterials open new ways to tailor light at the nanoscale

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

On the shape of the 'petal' for the dissipation curve

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Clean and Efficient – Fraunhofer ISE Presents Hydrogen Technologies at the HANNOVER MESSE 2018

23.04.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>