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Crop Biotech Update

Dwarf Plants to Cut Input Costs

May 18, 2012

Burkhard Schulz, a plant biochemical and molecular genetics professor at Purdue University, found that propiconazole, a fungicide used on golf courses, can inhibit a plant's ability to produce steroids, resulting in smaller and feminized corn plants. Schulz's research found that the feminized version of corn plants developed more kernels where pollen normally grows.

Shorter plants that will produce the same amount of grain as their taller counterparts could also reduce agriculture's environmental footprint. These plants would need less water, fertilizer, and pesticides.

Schulz said, "We can treat plants with this substance throughout the plant's life and it will never be able to produce steroids." This is significant for seed producers, who mechanically remove tassels, the male portion of the plants, so that they do not pollinate themselves. He also said that propiconazole is recognized as a safe chemical for humans, saying, "They treat golf courses with it. People are around it every day."

The research project of Schulz's Purdue University team and researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea plans to test other grain crops to see if propiconazole would retard steroid production in those plants, or whether the effect is specific to maize. He is also determining which genes are affected by the fungicide .

More details are available at http://phys.org/news/2012-05-tiny-environmental-footprint.html.