Maize’s starch pathway found limited

In the first look at the molecular diversity of the starch pathway in maize, research at North Carolina State University has found that – in contrast to the high amount of diversity in many of the maize genes previously studied – there is a general dearth of diversity in this particular pathway.

That’s important, says Dr. Ed Buckler, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) researcher, assistant professor of genetics at NC State and one of the study’s lead researchers, because molecular diversity essentially provides scientists and plant breeders the raw materials to make the crop better.

“Starch is the main product of maize, and is one of the pathways we want to change the most,” Buckler says. “People want to use corn for sweeteners, ethanol production and processed food needs. But some of the genes in the starch pathway cannot be manipulated any more by normal breeding.”

Buckler and colleagues at NC State and the University of California, Irvine, publish their findings in the Oct. 1 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The online version of the paper was released on Sept. 20.

In an interesting side note to the research on diversity in maize’s starch pathway, the team also conclusively identified the single nucleotide – or structural unit of a nucleic acid – responsible for the production of sweet corn in the United States. Previous research by Dr. Martha James at Iowa State University had narrowed the possibilities down to two nucleotides, according to Buckler. Sweet corn was one of the first mutations discovered in the field of genetics; that discovery occurred about 100 years ago, Buckler says.

“Currently, the identification of the U.S. sweet corn mutation is of historical and basic research interest, but in the future it could help lead to a sweet corn with a good balance of
sweetness, creaminess and germination ability,” Buckler said.

Buckler says limited diversity in starch and perhaps other, yet-to-be-studied maize pathways make it harder for plant breeders to increase yields of the popular crop. Therefore, to further increase yields, diversity of these important pathways must also be increased.

He adds that there are essentially three ways to solve the problem of low diversity in maize’s starch pathway: crossing maize with pollen from its wild relative, teosinte; searching for and extracting important genetic material from Latin or South American maize; or using transgenics, or genetic engineering.

Each possibility’s rewards come with risks, however. Teosinte’s yield is not very high, so crossing it with maize would not be immediately useful; searching for diversity in “foreign” maize may not yield the necessary genetic diversity to improve U.S. maize; and genetic engineering is often met with resistance, especially from consumers.

In the paper, Buckler and his colleagues suggest an alternative. “One efficient method may be to take alleles, or genetic variants, from selected genomic regions or genes in teosinte, which has lots of diversity, and incorporate them into maize,” Buckler says. This type of work has been done with the tomato and has yielded positive results, he adds.

Buckler’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.

Media Contact

Mick Kulikowski NCSU

All news from this category: Life Sciences

Articles and reports from the Life Sciences area deal with applied and basic research into modern biology, chemistry and human medicine.

Valuable information can be found on a range of life sciences fields including bacteriology, biochemistry, bionics, bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology, genetics, geobotany, human biology, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, cellular biology, zoology, bioinorganic chemistry, microchemistry and environmental chemistry.

Back to the Homepage

Comments (0)

Write comment

Latest posts

Researchers confront optics and data-transfer challenges with 3D-printed lens

Researchers have developed new 3D-printed microlenses with adjustable refractive indices – a property that gives them highly specialized light-focusing abilities. This advancement is poised to improve imaging, computing and communications…

Research leads to better modeling of hypersonic flow

Hypersonic flight is conventionally referred to as the ability to fly at speeds significantly faster than the speed of sound and presents an extraordinary set of technical challenges. As an…

Researchers create ingredients to produce food by 3D printing

Food engineers in Brazil and France developed gels based on modified starch for use as “ink” to make foods and novel materials by additive manufacturing. It is already possible to…

Partners & Sponsors

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close