Crop Biotech Update

Genome Reveals Corn's Secret History

August 11, 2021

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have assembled the genomes of more than two dozen of corn strains, revealing new genetic insights valuable for optimizing the crop for changing climates.

In the 1940s, Nobel Prize-winning CSHL geneticist Barbara McClintock discovered "jumping genes" in corn and how the plant uses them for adaptability, shuffling the genetic deck over generations. Now, CSHL scientists are still expanding on McClintock's work. Doreen Ware, a CSHL adjunct professor and research scientist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and her colleagues have published the genome sequences of 26 corn stains in the journal Science, describing a large portion of the genetic diversity found in modern corn plants, including transposons and genes that regulate desired crop traits.

Dr. Doreen Ware and her colleagues CSHL Professor & HHMI Investigator Rob Martienssen and CSHL Professor W. Richard McCombie mapped the first corn genome in 2009. They have been filling in gaps ever since. With recent techniques, the research team charted difficult stretches of the genome, allowing researchers to locate and study both important crop genes and the nearby regions that regulate their use. Ware says that the new collection reveals how the corn genome was shuffled over time: "These genomes provide us a footprint of that life history. Different strains have experienced different environments. For example, some came from tropical environments, others experienced particular diseases, and all those selective pressures leave a footprint of that history."

For more details, read the paper in Science or the article in CSHL Newsstand.

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