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K-State scientists hope research will make corn more heat, drought resistant

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at 1:20 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at 10:15 p.m.

Heat and drought killed a lot of corn this year.

Scientists at Kansas State University have achieved breakthrough research they hope will make corn more resistant to heat and drought in the future, the university said in a news release.

Among other work, they studied the sequenced genome of corn, with an eye toward figuring out how to modify corn, making it more resistant to drought and other bad weather.

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.

Historically, scientists have analyzed an isolated region of a plant genome — often taking a trial-and-error approach at finding what genes control what traits. What makes the new research more useful, is that Jianming Yu, an associate professor of agronomy at Kansas State, and other researchers studied the entire genome for small, frequent variations that may influence the risk of certain diseases. This helps researchers pinpoint genes that are potentially problematic and may be the key in abnormal traits and diseases. They hope the new work will lead to a better understanding of how to modify corn in useful ways.

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