Science and Technology News

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mutant Maize Plant

A mutant of maize that cannot produce brassinosteroids--a natural plant steroid hormone--develops female sex organs, with female kernels growing where male tassel flowers would normally occur.

Burkhard Schulz, assistant professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Purdue University, wanted to better understand the relationship between brassinosteroids and the architecture of plants, and in particular, how they affect their height.

Through his research, which was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, Schulz found that maize plants that lost their ability to produce brassinosteroids became dwarf, but more importantly, they were unable to produce male organs. They grew kernels where the tassels should be.

Schulz says that changing the architecture of plants--for example, making corn shorter and sturdier--is very important because it would minimize the amount of land you would need to produce food and fuels. Additionally, the lack of tassel growth would be beneficial to the seed industry because hybrid seed producers must remove the male, pollen-producing tassels from each plant so they don't pollinate themselves. The detasseling step could be removed if maize plants produced only female organs.

To learn more about this research, see the Purdue University news story “Stronger corn? Take it off steroids, make it all female.” (Date of Image: 2011)

Credit: Burkhard Schulz, Purdue University

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