Biotech Updates

Old Ways Help Modern Maize Defend Itself

July 9, 2014

Scientists from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland are exploring ways to help protect 21st century maize by re-arming it with its ancestral chemical weapons. Led by Dr. Ted Turlings, the researchers found that many varieties of modern maize have lost their ability to produce a chemical called E-β-caryophyllene. This chemical is produced by traditional ancestors of modern maize roots when the plant is under attack from invading corn rootworms. The chemical attracts 'friendly' nematode worms from the surrounding soil, which, in turn, kill the corn rootworm larvae within a few days.

The scientists investigated if restoring E-β-caryophyllene emission would protect maize plants against corn rootworms. After introducing a gene from oregano, the transformed maize plants released E-β-caryophyllene constantly, and attracted more nematodes and suffered less damage from an infestation of western corn rootworms.

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