March 4, 2009

Doubling gene produces giant corn biomass

A U.S. geneticist says doubling a certain gene in corn produces giant biomass that yields corn that makes good silage and also can be a good energy crop.

University of Illinois plant geneticist Stephen Moose said the gene -- Glossy 15 -- was originally described for its role in giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen for the young plant. Since subsequent studies showed the main function of Glossy15 is to slow shoot maturation, Moose said he wondered what would happen if they doubled the gene.

What happens is that you get bigger plants, possibly because they're more sensitive to the longer days of summer, he said. We put a corn gene back in the corn and increased its activity. So, it makes the plant slow down and gets much bigger at the end of the season.

The ears of corn have fewer seeds compared with the normal corn. Although there is less grain there is more sugar in the stalks, so we know the animal can eat it and they'll probably like it, said Moose, noting the corn plant might fit the grass-fed beef standard.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.