Roots Are a Key to Drought-Tolerant Maize


Study headed by the University of Bonn analyses 9,000 varieties of maize around the world.

Study headed by the University of Bonn analyses 9,000 varieties of maize around the world.

Maize can grow successfully in very different local conditions. An international study headed by the University of Bonn has now demonstrated the important role of the plant root system. The researchers analyzed more than 9,000 varieties in the study and were able to show that their roots varied considerably – depending on how dry the location is where each variety was cultivated. They were also able to identify an important gene that plays a role in the plant’s ability to adapt. This gene could be the key to developing varieties of maize that cope better with climate change. The results were recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

It is a bushy plant with highly branched stems. Finger-length ears grow from the axils of their elongated leaves and every one of them consists of a dozen rock-hard seeds.

You have to look very closely to recognize kinship with one of the world’s most important cultivated plants. And yet experts all agree that the genus teosinte is the ancestral form of all modern varieties of maize. Farmers in southwest Mexico began to select the progeny of teosinte plants that produced the most grains, and the tastiest grains, more than 9,000 years ago. Modern maize crops were cultivated in this way over the course of many generations and now maize is cultivated across all the continents. “We know that the appearance of the plants changed significantly during this time and, for example, the cobs have become much bigger and more prolific,” explains Prof. Dr. Frank Hochholdinger from the Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES) at the University of Bonn. “Up to now relatively little has been known, however, about how the root system developed over this period of domestication and afterwards.”

Read more at University of Bonn

Photo Credit: Skitterphoto via Pixabay