”Psychedelic” maize may boost crop and bio-fuel yields

Scientists have identified new genes in maize, which promote carbohydrate export from leaves. These genes could increase crop yields and the amount of bio-fuel that can be derived from each plant.

“This study shows that there is still a lot to learn about genes that control carbohydrate distribution in plants,” said David Braun, Ph.D, a researcher involved in the work conducted at Penn State’s Department of Biology.

“By learning how these genes work, I hope we’ll be able to improve plant growth and crop yield to solve some of the serious challenges concerning sustainable food and fuel production,” he adds.

These genes are called psychedelic because of the yellow and green streaks they cause in the plant”s leaves. Scientists examined this change that signals the mutation of the maize.

This research shows that two previously unknown genes function together to help move carbon from leaves to other parts of the plant, ultimately resulting in the allocation of carbohydrates that are essential for growth.

They also discovered that these genes affected a pathway different from anything previously known. This indicates that manipulating this pathway, corn or other crops could yield more grain for food or feed, more biomass for fuel, or plants better able to withstand environmental stresses, such as drought.

“Woodstock was a trip,” said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics, “but the potential of this and similar research is a journey. Increasing corn yields will impact multiple generations. It would allow farmers to produce more food, feed, and fuel from the same amount of land, and as the human population increases, society will need to get the most out of each plant as possible. This work promises to contribute to a continuation of the Green Revolution.”

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This research discovery was published in the May 2010 issue of Genetics.

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