Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The genetic origins of corn on the cob

25.07.2005


New gene plays central role in plant architecture and crop domestication





In 1909, while harvesting a typical corn crop (Zea mays) in Illinois, a field worker noticed a plant so unusual that it was initially believed to be a new species. Its "peculiarly shaped ear" was "laid aside as a curiosity" and the specimen was designated Zea ramosa (from the Latin ramosus, "having many branches"). Due to the alteration of a single gene, later named ramosa1, both the ear and the tassel of the plant were more highly branched than usual, leading to loose, crooked kernel rows and to a tassel that was far bushier than the tops of normal corn plants.

Now, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have isolated the ramosa1 gene and shown how it controls the arrangement and length of flower-bearing branches in corn, related cereal crops, and ornamental grasses. The study indicates that during the domestication of corn from its wild ancestor (teosinte), early farmers selected plants with special versions of the ramosa1 gene that suppressed branching in the ear, leading to the straight rows of kernels and the compact ears of modern-day corn on the cob. The findings are described in the July 24 advance online edition of the journal Nature.


"We’ve shown that corn and related grasses have either none, some, or a lot of ramosa1 gene activity, and that these different levels of activity have a big impact on the architecture of the plants," says Dr. Robert Martienssen of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who led the study. "The ramosa1 gene appears to be a key player in the domestication of corn, and we’ve shown that it acts by signaling cells to form short rather than long branches," says Martienssen, who was joined in the study by lead author Dr. Erik Vollbrecht, now at Iowa State University.

Says Vollbrecht, "We solved this enduring puzzle by combining classical and modern molecular genetics. The former included our use of transposable elements or ’jumping genes’--discovered at Cold Spring Harbor by [Nobel laureate] Barbara McClintock--to ’tag’ the ramosa1 gene. That enabled us to isolate the gene and determine its DNA sequence for a variety of other experiments."

"As corn was being domesticated, farmers selected a larger and larger ear with more and more rows of kernels, based on the activity of genes other than ramosa1. But we suspect that as the ear got larger, it needed special alleles of ramosa1 to prevent the extra rows from forming branches instead of kernels," says Martienssen. "There may have been other reasons for selecting an unbranched ear, including the interaction with other genes that were subsequently lost during domestication, but we don’t yet know if this is the case."

The study reveals that plants with more ramosa1 activity (e.g. typical corn) tend to have fewer branches, shorter branches, and fewer flowers whereas plants with less ramosa1 activity (e.g. sorghum, rice, and the ramosa corn variety described above) tend to have more branches, longer branches, and more flowers.

"We also looked at a popular ornamental grass that grows outside my office and found the same result. It has a spiky top like corn, so we were delighted to find that they have similar profiles of ramosa1 activity," says Martienssen.

Peter Sherwood | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cshl.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Research team creates new possibilities for medicine and materials sciences
22.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

nachricht Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent
22.01.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>