Genetic Help on the Way for Flood-Prone Corn
April 26, 1999
April is the cruellest month for
farmers when heavy spring rains drown crops. But
Agricultural Research Service scientists
are working on a built-in genetic life preserver that may help corn survive
That genetic flood insurance--good news for farmers who face added costs in
labor, seed and fertilizer to replant--comes from flood-tolerant corn breeding
lines discovered by ARS scientist Martin M. Sachs in Urbana, Illinois.
Sachs, based at the University of
Illinois, has identified flood-tolerant South American plants that live up
to three times longer under water than most North American corn varieties. He
found the flood-resistant corn while screening 400 genetic land races from the
International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center in Mexico City. He crossed the water-tolerant lines from
South America with normal inbred North American lines. The results: half of the
resulting corn plants survived flooding, after the North American parents had
Sachs would like to determine the genetic, physiological, biochemical and
molecular differences these flood tolerant inbreds have and ultimately isolate
the gene or genes involved. So far, he's identified 10 different breeding
lines, each of which shows a simple dominant trait for increased flood
For now, he uses traditional breeding techniques to cross the desired trait
into American corn lines. But he envisions that genetic engineering will allow
him to fortify corn with even more flood tolerance from rice.
Sachs is director of ARS'
Cooperation Stock Center, part of the
National Plant Germplasm System
supported by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. ARS is the chief research agency of the USDA.
Scientific contact: Martin Sachs, ARS
University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., phone (217) 244-0864, fax (217) 333-6064,