Differences in height, skin and eye color of humans, for example, are very noticeable, but are actually the consequences of very small variations in genetic makeup.
Researchers at Iowa State University, China Agricultural University and the Beijing Genomics Institute in China recently re-sequenced and compared six elite inbred corn (maize) lines, including the parents of the most productive commercial hybrids in China.
When comparing the different inbred corn lines, researchers expected to see more variations in the genes than in humans.
Surprisingly, researchers found entire genes that were missing from one line to another.
"That was a real eye opener," said Patrick Schnable, director of the Center for Plant Genomics and professor of agronomy at ISU.
The research uncovered more than 100 genes that are present in some corn lines but missing in others.
This variation is called the presence/absence variation, and Schnable thinks it could be very important.
Schnable's research is the cover article for the current edition of the journal Nature Genetics, and has been highlighted by the association Faculty 1000, which identifies the top 2 percent of important research from peer-reviewed journals worldwide.
"One of the goals of the research is to try to identify how heterosis (hybrid vigor) works," said Schnable.
Heterosis is the phenomenon in which the offspring of two different lines of corn grow better than either of the two parents. This is the attribute that has enabled corn breeders to produce better and better hybrids of corn.
For instance, two lines of corn can be bred to produce a hybrid that increases yield or resists drought or pests better than either of the parents.
With the current discovery that certain genes are missing from inbred corn lines, Schnable thinks science is a step closer to identifying which genes are responsible for which traits.
Knowing which genes are important would provide a shortcut for breeders to produce hybrids with specific traits.
For example, if one inbred line is missing a gene and is drought susceptible, crossing that line with a line that includes the missing gene and is drought tolerant, might lead to a better hybrid, according to Schnable.
"If we can understand how heterosis works, we might be able to make predictions about which inbreds to cross together," said Schnable. "I don't think we'll be able to tell plant breeders which hybrids will be the absolute winners. But we might be able to say 'These combinations are probably not worth testing.'"
Schnable sees combining genes from two lines as a chance to introduce the best from both plants.
"These are complementing somehow," he said. "It's like a really good marriage. She's good at this, and he's good at that, and together, they form a good team."
The potential for improvement is great, but Schnable cautions that much work needs to be done.
"We are at the point where we think this is going to be important, but we don't know which genes specifically are going to be important," he said. "Now we need to figure out which genetic combinations will be predictive of hybrid success."
Patrick Schnable, Agronomy, 515-294-0975, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Schnable is currently out of the country and can be contacted by e-mail.
Dan Kuester, News Service, 515-294-0704, email@example.com
Dan Kuester | Newswise Science News
Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie
Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy