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Genetics research paves way for better corn plants

Alan Flurry

The newly assembled genomes of 26 different genetic lines of corn illustrate the crop’s rich genetic diversity and lay the groundwork for a better understanding of what genetic mechanisms account for crop traits prized by farmers.

The mapping of the 26 genomes, published recently in the journal Science, was a team effort co-led by University of Georgia’s Kelly Dawe that will help scientists piece together the puzzle of corn genetics. Using these new genomes as references, plant scientists can better select for genes likely to lead to better crop yields or stress tolerance.

“For much of the modern genetic era, we relied on a single genome and compared everything else to it. However, we have learned that one genome doesn’t have all the genes,” said Dawe, UGA Athletic Association Professor in Plant Genetics. “It is like having one golf club, one socket wrench or one set of clothes. We, as a community, have been slowly trying to shift our approach to include multiple references. Our goal here was to shift all of maize genomics in one large leap from one reference to 26.”

Dawe worked on the project with a team including Matthew Hufford, first author on the paper and associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology at Iowa State University, where the analysis was performed.

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