A new study may help scientists produce better climate-resistant corn and other food production plants by putting a spin on the notion that we are what we eat.
Kansas State University geneticists and colleagues found that by applying a genetic-analysis method used to study and prioritize the genes in humans, it improved the likelihood of finding critical genes in food production plants. These genes control quantitate traits in plants, such as how the plants grow and when they flower.
Additionally, this method can be used to study how food production plants respond to drought, heat and other factors -- giving scientists a greater chance at improving crops' resistances to harsh weather and environments like drought.
"Right now we know most of the genes that make up several of these food production plants, but finding the right genes to increase food yield or heat tolerance is like finding a needle in a haystack," said Jianming Yu, associate professor of agronomy at Kansas State University and the study's senior author.
Yu made the finding with Xianran Li and Chengsong Zhu, both agronomy research associates at Kansas State University; Patrick Schnable, Baker professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, and colleagues at Cornell University; the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; the University of Minnesota; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service.
Their study, "Genic and non-genic contributions to natural variation of quantitative traits in maize," was recently published in the journal Genome Research. The National Science Foundation funded the research.
For the study, researchers looked at the sequenced genome of corn. A genome is the genetic blueprint of an organism and contains all of the DNA and genes that give the organism its traits, like height and color. Staple food crops like corn, wheat, barley and oats have comparable and sometimes larger, more complex genomes than humans and mammals. That poses a challenge for scientists attempting to modify the plant and improve aspects like production and heat tolerance.