From what I gather, the scientists are taking advantage of a naturally occurring genetic mutation that makes the plant forget to stop growing when it gets to a certain size. On its own, this mutation isn't much good because the corn kernels are tiny. But take this corn and hybridize it with a normal corn, and we now have a corn that produces 50% more.
This raises all sorts of questions: Is that 50% more for the same amount of inputs (water, soil fertility, &c)? Is the stem strong enough to hold the extra weight? Don't environmental factors also have a huge influence on genetic on/off switches? Would this new corn work in the field (outside the lab settings)?
I see that phenotype of corn show up on my farm from time to time. I end up selecting against it. My processing equipment was engineered 130 years ago to deal well with traditionally shaped cobs. As a small scale farmer, I'm not interested in dealing with the pieces of broken cob that end up in my grain. In a sweet corn, the rough tip tends to attract bugs that make cobs with this trait less marketable.
The article claimed that the corn produces 50% more kernels. It didn't say 50% more grain weight...
I can't know what genes are in my crops, but here's an example that might be related.
Equipment, that was another thing I was wondering about.
I know just about nothing about processing dry corn, except everyone says how easy it is to get off the cob... really? Anyway, wouldn't funny shaped cobs need different equipment? If so, wouldn't this add to the expense of producing mutant corn?
R Ranson wrote:I know just about nothing about processing dry corn, except everyone says how easy it is to get off the cob... really?
No!!! Ease of shelling is just one more trait to pay attention to while breeding corn. I have grown way to much corn that was way to hard to remove from the cob. In recent years, ease of shelling has become a PRIMARY selection criteria for me. These days I'm pretty much not saving seed from any cob that is difficult to shell, regardless of how brilliant the other characteristics of the plant are. I haven't gone all the way to saving only "easy shelling" cobs, but I'm moving more that direction all the time.
That corn of Joseph's looks like a "tissue mix" of tassel and cob. If I were to guess, I'd say it may be a "homeotic" mutant, where one of the major genes in the organ-determining pathway became mutated in that particular plant. The effect is to send the organ development program into somewhat disarray. There are some genes which contain hot-spots for mutation and one will tend to find those mutants more frequently in their fields than other mutants. (credit for the photo: Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 58, No. 5, pp. 909–916, 2007)
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