Biotech Updates

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Team Develops Technique to Speed Up Corn Gene Identification

June 13, 2024

Vladimir Torres-Rodriguez, a postdoctoral associate in the Schnable Lab, developed and tested an innovative gene-analysis method, focusing on RNA, that greatly boosts the ability to identify corn genes. Photo Source: Lina Lopez | Schnable Lab

A research team in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's (UNL) Department of Agronomy and Horticulture led by Vladimir Torres-Rodriguez, a postdoctoral associate working with professor and corn genetics specialist James Schnable has taken a major step forward in identifying the function of corn genes. Torres-Reodriguez developed and tested a technique that uses RNA rather than DNA, an innovative approach that identified about 10 times as many corn genes affecting flowering time than widely used DNA-based methods for identifying genes.

A corn plant's genome contains almost 40,000 genes, thousands more than the human genome. Fifteen years after the publication of the corn genome's first draft, the roles 98% of those genes play in making a corn plant or determining how corn will respond to different growing conditions remain unknown.

The research team measured the RNA levels of more than 39,000 corn genes in each of roughly 700 varieties of corn, using plants grown at the university's Havelock Farm in Lincoln. They then combined the RNA measurements with those of the corn plants themselves collected both in Lincoln and by collaborators at Michigan State University. This resulted in "UNL producing the largest data set of corn gene expression measurements in the world," Torres-Rodriguez said.

For more details on this project, read the news release in Nebraska Today.

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