Unlocking Popcorn's Secret Diversity

Jul 07, 2023

A study conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has delved into the unexplored depths of popcorn's genetic code, uncovering a treasure trove of diversity. Contrary to its seemingly simple appearance, popcorn harbors a multitude of variations, as revealed by the analysis of 320 popcorn lines in the study. The researchers discovered over 308,000 distinct genetic differences across the genome, shedding light on the potential for agronomically significant traits. 

This newfound diversity holds promise for popcorn companies seeking to enrich their germplasm with traits such as disease resistance and herbicide tolerance. Although further investigation is required to identify specific traits of interest, the dataset generated by the study opens doors to endless possibilities, as explained by co-author Tony Studer, associate professor and popcorn breeder at the Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois. 

The research team employed genotyping techniques to document and analyze the variations, known as polymorphisms, present in different corn lines at the level of single nucleotides. Notably, their findings led to intriguing hypotheses regarding the relatedness of popcorn varieties. Traditionally, popcorn in North America falls into two groups: yellow pearl types and white-pointed Latin American types. The study uncovered a high level of inbreeding among yellow pearl popcorn and provided valuable insights into the historical movement of popcorn across the continent. 

The researchers examined the impact of herbicide application, focusing on nicosulfuron, which is exclusively labeled for yellow-kernelled hybrids. Surprisingly, they discovered that the sensitivity of white-kernelled popcorn to nicosulfuron was not related to kernel color but rather correlated with genetic heritage and population structure. 

 This revelation presents an opportunity for popcorn breeders to enhance tolerance to nicosulfuron and other herbicides in both existing and future cultivars. By unraveling popcorn's hidden genetic secrets, this pioneering study sets the stage for the development of new popcorn varieties and the improvement of herbicide tolerance, ultimately revolutionizing the popcorn industry. 

Source : wisconsinagconnection
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