Crop Biotech Update

Detailed New Maize Reference Genome Shows Its Deep Resources for Continued Adaptation

June 14, 2017

Doreen Ware of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, led scientists from seven academic institutions and several genome technology companies in the project that produced a much more detailed reference genome for maize, or corn. According to Ware, the new genome for maize shows the plant's flexibility, which explains why maize has been successful since its adaptation thousands of years ago. It also provides insights on the plant's ability to thrive in new places as the planet's climate changes, and for increasing its productivity and environmental sustainability in the U.S. and abroad.

The maize genome is large, but its size is not responsible for its "phenotypic plasticity," the potential range in its ability to adapt. Ware explains that, in trying to determine the possibilities for a plant when adapting to new or changing conditions, the genes that are activated—or silenced—determines what the total set of genes enables a plant to do. The research group assembled a highly accurate and very detailed reference genome for an important maize line called B73, and compared it with genome maps for maize individuals from two other lines (W22 and Ki11), grown in different climates. The team arrived at an astonishing realization: maize individuals are much, much less alike at the level of the genome than people are. This difference among maize individuals reflects the changes in the sequence of the genes themselves, where and when they are expressed, and at what levels, explains Yinping Jiao, a postdoctoral researcher in the Ware lab and first author of the paper announcing the new genome.

For more details, read the article at CSHL News & Features.