Scientists Out to Find Secrets of Super Sweet Corn

Scientists Out to Find Secrets of Super Sweet Corn

Marcio Resende scouting sweet corn crops in Florida

UF/IFAS researcher Marcio Resende is part of scientific team seeking to make sweet corn tastier and easier to grow.
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

It’s hard to beat the savory snap of sweet corn, but a group of scientists are willing to bet they can. Researchers, led by a team from the University of Florida, plan to use a $7.3 million, four-year grant from USDA to find genetic traits that will make sweet corn taste even better, last longer, and grow more effectively across the nation.

According to Mark Settles, a UF/IFAS Professor heading up the project, the goal is find those genes that make sweet corn a tasty vegetable and be able to then use those genes in traditional breeding. “It’s a really popular vegetable,” he stated. “But there have been few game-changing innovations that would boost the taste and yield of sweet corn.”

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Joining Settles from the UF/IFAS team are Marcio Resende, an Assistant Professor of horticultural sciences as well as sweet corn breeder, and Charles Sims, a UF/IFAS Professor of food science and human nutrition.

The UF/IFAS researchers will get help from scientists at Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin, Washington State University, and the USDA to conduct the study. The teams will set out to find tastes, aroma, and texture that consumers like. As study participants sample the corn, they’ll also tell how much they’d be willing to pay for it, which makes up the economics portion of the research, according to Settles.

Researchers also are on a mission to help growers add value to their crop. To get started on finding the best genetic traits, they will screen existing sweet corn seeds to find genes that (among other things) help corn grow right after planting. This will be particularly helpful for organic farmers, Settles points out.

Additional project goals include finding ways to beat back the silk fly (a persistent pest) more effectively and to find the genetic traits that make corn last longer on grocery store shelves and require less pesticide use.

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