Corn gene breakthrough speeds up crop innovation

Jun 06, 2024

UNL technique identifies functions of thousands of genes


Understanding the function of genes is crucial for improving crops. However, pinpointing the role of each gene in corn has been slow and expensive. Now, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have developed a faster and cheaper method for identifying corn gene functions.

This innovative technique, led by Vladimir Torres-Rodriguez and Professor James Schnable, utilizes RNA analysis instead of traditional DNA methods. This approach identified ten times more corn genes affecting flowering time compared to DNA-based methods.

The new technique can significantly reduce the cost of bringing gene-edited corn varieties to market, benefiting both farmers and consumers. Faster development of improved corn varieties can also lead to more resilient crops better suited to withstand harsh conditions.

"UNL has produced the largest data set of corn gene expression measurements in the world," said Torres-Rodriguez. This vast dataset, combined with Schnable's expertise, positions UNL as a leader in corn research.

The project was made possible through collaboration with private companies like Alphabet's X division. This partnership highlights the growing importance of public-private partnerships in agricultural innovation.

UNL's breakthrough paves the way for a future with faster development of improved corn varieties, leading to more resilient crops and potentially lower food prices.