New Corn Varieties May Be Coming Soon

A four-year effort to sequence the genome of corn — something that is expected to speed up development of corn varieties that will help feed the world — has been completed by USDA scientists and their colleagues.

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According to a news release from the Agricultural Research Service, the sequencing will also meet growing demands for using this important grain crop as a biofuel and animal feed. In addition, it will help researchers uncover the relationships between corn genes and traits, develop an overall picture of the plant’s genetic makeup, and broaden understanding of how the complex interplay of genetics and environment determines the plant’s health and viability. The work also is expected to lead to the development of corn varieties with higher yields and better tolerance of droughts, pests, and diseases. It also should help scientists produce varieties with fibers, stalks, and cellular structures that will make corn a better source of biofuel.

The team, which included Doreen Ware, a computational biologist at the ARS Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in Ithaca, NY, has released the most comprehensive draft sequence to date, providing the most detailed look thus far at the functional portions of the corn genome. Ware led the computational effort and is a lead author of the report along with Richard Wilson of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, and Patrick S. Schnable of Iowa State University at Ames. Other key participants in the project included the University of Arizona at Tucson and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, along with the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, jointly funded the $29.5 million effort.

Edward Buckler, an ARS geneticist at the Holley Center, and Ware also have used next generation sequencing data to assemble a haplotype genetic map of the corn genome that lays out portions of the genome shared by 27 diverse inbred lines of corn. A haplotype is a combination of alleles — alternative forms of genes — that are located closely together on the same chromosome and tend to be inherited together. The corn lines in the haplotype genetic map were selected specifically because they represent the vast majority of the genetic diversity in corn. By searching through these lines, researchers and breeders can unlock corn’s genetic potential and significantly accelerate the breeding of plants to meet the demands of the growing world population and the challenges of global climate change.

For more information, go to www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/091119.2.htm

Source: USDA ARS news release