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New Corn Lines May Be Good for the Heart

By Luis Pons
August 15, 2003

Heart-friendlier products may be one of the benefits from new corn varieties developed by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and Iowa State University (ISU).

The 14 new lines may help users of corn-based cooking oils and margarine keep blood cholesterol levels in check. They also may make possible salad dressings with longer shelf lives, as well as less-costly animal feed.

Geneticist Linda Pollak and plant biologist Susan Duvick of ARS, along with ISU food science professor Pamela White, developed the lines. They crossed traditional Corn Belt inbred lines with varieties, cultivated during past independent studies, that contain genes from eastern gamagrass, Tripsacum dactyloides.

Both ARS scientists are based in Ames, Iowa--Pollak in the Corn Insects and Crops Genetics Research Unit, and Duvick at the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station.

Some of their corn lines yield oils with 60 to 70 percent oleic acid, a compound that helps products stay fresh longer and is thought to help lower blood cholesterol in people. Most commercially available corn oils contain 20 to 30 percent oleic acid. High oleic acid content may also lead margarine makers to skip hydrogenation, a process that creates trans fatty acids, which are believed to raise cholesterol.

Some oils from the new corn lines have total saturated fatty acid compositions as low as 6.5 percent, compared to the 13 percent found in corn oils currently available. Meanwhile, the high protein and oil contents of some of the new varieties may lead to cost-effective animal feeds.

The researchers are awaiting patent approval for the Tripsacum-introgressed corn lines and are seeking commercial partners. Future research will focus on examining the types of products that can use the high-oleic lines, and on crossing the new lines with existing corn varieties.

Read more about this research in the August issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.