Corn Kernel Study May Help Improve Crop Yields

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Slovenian scientists say they compared corn kernel development to its closest wild relative, teosinte, and their findings overturn some common beliefs.

The researchers from the National Institute of Biology in Ljubljana said understanding the evolution and domestication of maize is important, since it’s one of world’s most important crops and it may help improve crop yields.

The researchers, led by Marina Dermastia, said many traits seen in the cellular development of maize kernels that were previously attributed to the process of domestication were also observed in the development of the teosinte kernels.

“Although the teosinte kernels are morphologically so different from that of maize, their inside is not,” Dermastia said. “Although we did not expect fundamental differences between maize and teosinte, the similarities were striking.”

Some of the traits thought to be unique to maize, but now also found in teosinte, include an early programmed cell death for cells in part of the kernel and accumulation of phenolic and flavonoid compounds in the walls of these cells.

Those developmental changes, said the scientists, strengthen the cells, protect them against decay and disease, and increase water conductance.

Dermastia said the presence of the traits in teosinte kernels suggests they are not a consequence of maize domestication.

The study appears in the American Journal of Botany.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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