Crop Biotech Update

VIB-UGent Researchers Discover Gene that Increases Seed Yield in Maize

March 22, 2017

Researchers from VIB-UGent have discovered a gene that significantly increases plant growth and seed yield in maize. The results from laboratory research were confirmed during a two-year field trials conducted in Belgium and the U.S. showing that this gene can increase seed yield in maize hybrids by 10 to 15%. The results of the greenhouse and field trials are published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

VIB-UGent scientists, headed by Prof. Dirk Inzé and Dr. Hilde Nelissen, are conducting research into the molecular mechanisms behind leaf growth in maize. Leaf development is a blueprint for plant growth processes. Indeed, knowing how leaves grow provides a great deal of information about the growth of the plant as a whole. The researchers discovered a gene in maize, named PLA1, which significantly increases plant growth and size of plant organs such as leaves and cobs.

Scientific research at the cell level demonstrated that PLA1 extends the duration of plant growth. "Plants with the PLA1 trait, therefore, grow longer, meaning they become bigger and produce more seeds, which can be a benefit farmers", says Dr. Nelissen. Multi-seasonal field experiments, both in Belgium and the United States, have shown that PLA1 increases biomass and seed yield in maize inbred lines and hybrids. The field trials in Belgium were conducted in cooperation with Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research.

In the greenhouse, the researchers discovered that PLA1 plays a role in how plants cope with drought stress. The growth-enhancing PLA1 trait appeared to partly compensate for the growth reduction that normally occurs as a result of long periods of water shortage. These findings also offer a perspective for developing agricultural crops that guarantee stable yields even when the weather conditions are less favorable. In this way, new varieties of crops can help cope with the effects of climate change. Further research is now focused on finding out the molecular mechanisms that lie at the basis of  increased yield.

Read the news release from VIB and the research article for more information.