Biotech Updates

Scientists Identify Corn Genes in Charge of Calling for Help

October 26, 2016

Plant volatiles not only have multiple defense functions but are also connected to signaling within the plant as well as towards other organisms. When corn plants (Zea mays) are being eaten by caterpillars, they release a scent, from terpenes, that attract parasitic wasps with larvae that can consume the caterpillar. However, not all corn varieties are equally effective at this.

Researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, Cornell University, and the Boyce Thompson Institute studied the genomes of 26 corn varieties to look for genes linked to terpene production and mapped them on the chromosomes. Eventually, the team identified three new enzymes that function in terpene synthesis pathways.

Aside from its role in corn defense, a terpene called linalool is also a common ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics. The team will then study how these genes are regulated to better understand terpene production.

By breeding for the most effective genes for terpene production, breeders could develop corn varieties that are better able to protect against caterpillar attacks.

For more information, read the full article in The Plant Cell.