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Crop Biotech Update

CIMMYT Scientist Uses Native Maize Varieties to Find Novel Traits for Breeding

April 25, 2018

A scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is working to help farmers face the challenges posed by climate change by using the natural diversity of plants to unlock desirable genetic traits inside food crops. Terry Molnar, maize phenotyping and breeding specialist at CIMMYT, studies the traits found in different maize varieties in the CIMMYT seed collections that can be used to strengthen crops and produce healthy food and better livelihoods. He studies landraces to identify useful traits such as resistance to heat and drought.

Molnar looks for landrace varieties with natural resistance to two prevalent maize diseases, tar spot complex (TSC) and maize lethal necrosis (MLN). TSC is an important disease in the southern half of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, and can decrease yields by 50 percent when it gets into fields early in a growing cycle. Most of the farmers in the affected areas are too poor to afford fungicides, so resistance built into varieties is very important. Likewise, MLN is a large problem in eastern Africa.

The last trait that Molnar looks for is pigmentation, specifically blue and red kernel colors. This effort aims to develop new end-use markets in Mexico. Maize pigments come from increased concentrations of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which has been connected to decreased cancer risk. Blue and red maize can be used for specialty food products or for industrial use such as the extraction of natural colors for use in other food products. In both cases, the pigmented maize commands a higher price for the farmer and gives them access to new markets.

For more details, read the feature article from CIMMYT.