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Crop Biotech Update

FSU-Cornell Research Team Discovers 'Dark Matter' in Maize Genome

May 18, 2016

A team of researchers from Florida State University and Cornell University has proven that a small percentage of the entire maize genome is responsible for almost half of the plant's trait diversity. FSU's Hank Bass and Daniel Vera, together with Cornell University colleagues Eli Rodgers-Melnick and Ed Buckler, found that a small portion of chromatin — the complex of DNA and its associated proteins — accounts for 40 percent of heritable trait diversity in maize.

The discovery means that a small portion of the chromatin holds a vast amount of information that accounts for traits such as plant size, shape, yield, and stress response. The researchers identified areas of open chromatin that regulate genes, using a single cost-effective chromatin profiling procedure developed by the team. They were also able to measure how tightly wrapped DNA is in the genome.

Cornell sent 600 kernels to FSU that were grown into seedlings. Tissue from the roots, stems and leaves was collected and then cell nuclei isolated. The nuclei were exposed to an enzyme that cuts specific portions of the DNA, and the data were computationally and statistically analyzed to identify the open chromatin in the genome.

"It allows us to start pinpointing the single base pair change and mutations that are regulating or allowing plants to adapt to their environment. It helps us narrow down the hunt dramatically," said Edward Buckler, a Cornell University and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research geneticist and a co-author of the paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 16.

More details are available at the FSU and Cornell University website.