Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have identified a gene that appears to have been a critical trait in allowing the earliest plant breeders 7,000 years ago to transform teosinte, a wild grass that grows in the Mexican Sierra Madre, into maize, the world’s third most planted crop after rice and wheat.
Graphic shows teosinte, maize and barrenstalk1 mutant Credit: John Doebley and Andrea Gallavotti
In a paper that appears in the December 2 issue of the journal Nature, the scientists report their discovery of a gene that regulates the development of secondary branching in plants, presumably permitting the highly branched, bushy teosinte plant to be transformed into the stalk-like modern maize.
The researchers say the presence of numerous variants of this gene in teosinte, but only one variant of the gene in all inbred varieties of modern maize, provides tantalizing evidence that Mesoamerican crop breeders most likely used this trait in combination with a small number of other traits to selectively transform teosinte to maize, one of the landmark events in the development of modern agriculture.
Robert J. Schmidt | EurekAlert!
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