12 Feb 2018
Through the introduction of a rice gene, scientists have produced a maize plant that harvests more kernels per plant – even in periods of drought.
Credit: Rothamsted Research
The rice gene expressed depresses levels of a natural chemical, trehalose 6 -phosphate (T6P), in the phloem of the transgenic maize plant. T6P is responsible for the distribution of sucrose in the plant.
Lowering levels of T6P in the phloem, an essential track in the plant’s transportation system, allows more sucrose to be channelled to the developing kernels of the plant. As a result of increased levels of sucrose in this area of the maize plant, more kernels are produced.
‘These structures are particularly sensitive to drought – female kernels will abort,’ said Matthew Paul, team leader and plant biochemist at Rothamsted. ‘Keeping sucrose flowing within the structures prevents this abortion.’
The transatlantic team, from Rothamsted Research in the UK and biotechnology company Syngenta in the US, built on field tests published three years ago that demonstrated increased productivity of the same genetically-modified maize.
‘This is a first-in-its-kind study that shows the technology operating effectively both in the field and in the laboratory,’ said Paul.
Drought is becoming an increasing problem for developing countries, where the economic and social impacts are most evident.
Maize, also known as corn, and other cereals are relied on heavily across these nations due to their low-cost and high nutritional value, with rice, maize, and wheat used for 60% of the global food energy intake.
Positive results in these trials are promising, and the team believe this work could be transferred to wheat and rice plants, as well as other cereals, said Paul.
By Georgina Hines