Corn-Bred Statistics to High-Tech Breeding
By Judy McBride
February 9, 2001
Plant geneticist Ed Buckler with the
Agricultural Research Service in
Raleigh, N.C., is applying statistics to corn genes. Within three years,
Buckler expects to zero in on the exact base changes--or mutations--across 100
broadly diverse corn lines that could help make the grain more profitable to
Without sequencing the genes in each corn line and then applying statistics,
plant geneticists may select the desired gene only 10 percent of the time,
compared to 95 percent of the time with the approaches Buckler is developing.
In 1999, U.S. corn reaped an average of only $1.90 per bushel. With such a
low price, farmers need varieties that thrive with the lowest chemical inputs,
stand up straight under wind and rain and produce grain with the highest
nutrient value for animal feed.
Buckler is among six scientists nationwide involved in the Maize
Evolutionary Genomics Project, funded by the National Science Foundation. Ultimately,
breeders or genetic engineers will be able to select from the wide trait
variations among these 100 corn lines to produce hardier plants or grain with
better protein. But first, they must know which mutations on which genes
control a desired trait.
There are usually hundreds of mutations on each of the genes connected with
a trait. But only one or two specific changes may actually have any effect on
the trait in question. Finding the exact bases that contribute to a trait of
interest is like driving around an unfamiliar city without a map, trying to
find specific addresses--unless one applies statistical associations.
Bucklers group is in the first wave of researchers to associate
natural base diversity with trait variation in plants using statistical
methods. So he is having to adapt statistics developed for human genetic
research and to create some new equations in the process.
Once developed, the methodology can be used for any type of plant or
fungus--even for humans.
Read more on the topic in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures main scientific research agency.
Scientific contact: Edward S. Buckler,
ARS Plant Science
Research Unit, Raleigh, N.C.; phone (919) 513-1475, fax (919) 856-4816,