Sunday, July 24, 2005

Corn takes a new (old) shape

I wanted to share this story even though it really is not about medical discovery, but it is about genetics. I loved the photo, so I thought I would cover this. You can find more information at Eurekalert in a press release.

The story goes: "In 1909, while harvesting a typical corn crop (Zea mays) in Illinois, a field worker noticed a plant so unusual that it was initially believed to be a new species. Its "peculiarly shaped ear" was "laid aside as a curiosity" and the specimen was designated Zea ramosa."

Due to the alteration of a single gene, later named ramosa1, both the ear and the tassel of the plant were more highly branched than usual, leading to loose, crooked kernel rows and to a tassel that was far bushier than the tops of normal corn plants.

Now, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have isolated the ramosa1 gene and shown how it controls the arrangement and length of flower-bearing branches in corn, related cereal crops, and ornamental grasses.

The study indicates that during the domestication of corn from its wild ancestor (teosinte), early farmers selected plants with special versions of the ramosa1 gene that suppressed branching in the ear, leading to the straight rows of kernels and the compact ears of modern-day corn on the cob.

Dr. Robert Martienssen, who led the study, says, "The ramosa1 gene appears to be a key player in the domestication of corn, and we've shown that it acts by signaling cells to form short rather than long branches."

The findings are described in the journal Nature.

1 comment:

David Collin said...

So, we're eating GMOs, huh? Just can't trust that Jolly Green Giant.