Amazing Maize

25 September 2017

26 Sep 2017

Zea mays - sweetcorn

It has been a good summer for growing sweetcorn. Many of us will be enjoying ample harvests from our gardens and allotments but sweetcorn is used for a lot more besides just eating!

When we take medications, in whatever form, how many of us realise that the active component is often only a small proportion of the formulation? The bulk of the medication (suppository, transdermal patch, solution, inhalation powder, tablet etc) that is not the active pharmaceutical ingredient has many different functions. Excipients facilitate the packaging of active ingredients. They can be used to enhance the absorption of the drug into the body, to alter the rate of absorption (i.e. to generate a slow release formulation) and to mask unpleasant tasting drugs.

Picture above: Sweetcorn growing in the SCIence Garden.

GlutamineCoatings are used to protect the contents from atmospheric moisture or to mask the bitter taste of the interior. Most tablets are coated with hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (HPMC), which is sugar free and does not contain potential allergens. Sometimes other coatings are used. One such is zein, a prolamine protein isolated from maize.Proline


Prolamine proteins are a group of plant storage proteins that have a high proline and glutamine content.

Maize is also an excellent source of starch - another commonly used excipient in tablets.       Proline

Sweetcorn and long term science?

On a recent visit to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, whilst walking through the campus, I spotted what looked like a field of sweetcorn growing in the middle of the campus. Now, I know in Illinois, fields of corn are everywhere but on a university campus?

The Morrow Plots_University of IllinoisOn further investigation I found this sign. Another information panel informed me that these plots, which used to cover a larger area, were modelled on the experimental field plots at Rothamsted Research (pictured below) in Harpenden, which I visited just a few years ago. These plots were all designed to study the effect of long term crop production on soil properties including fertility.Rothamsted Reseach

Each sub-plot has been subjected to a different treatment - different levels of a range of nutrients, been part of a rotation system or not and above all everything is documented so the results can be further interpreted. Scientists have learnt that crop production does reduce the organic matter content of soils and lowers nutrient levels, requiring these to be added back in to the soil in order to maintain production levels.

Written by Alison Foster

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