The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave $5 million worth of research funding to researchers at Iowa State University who are working on developing a type of corn capable of maintaining high yields despite temperature rises.
Alan Myers and Tracie Hennen-Bierwagen, both of the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology at Iowa State University are highly involved with the study. They're hoping to discover a biochemical solution to the yield loss.
The Iowa State researchers are part of a multidisciplinary group trying to create corn types that will produce sustainable yields even in a changing climate. They are collaborating with researchers from the University of Florida, Gainesville, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
(Alan Myers; courtesy of ISU)
Corn yield can drop significantly, up to 25%, with only a 5 degree fahrenheit rise in temperature. Hennen-Bierwagen and Myers say that in light of impending climate change, now is the time to find solutions.
Temperature change affects corn yields so significantly because it hinders the plant's ability to convert sugar into starch. According to Hennen-Bierwagen, "The plant sends sugar up to the seed at normal levels. But the seed is not able to make that sugar into starch as efficiently at high temperatures."
The researchers, however, still cannot identify the specific factor that hinders the seed's metabolism. Their research will focus on discovering the responsible mechanism.
Hennee-Bierwagen is hopeful that, if the team can locate the responsible genes, the findings could have implications for other agricultural crops. "The basic knowledge we get from this could be applied elsewhere. The yield loss in high temperature is seen in numerous crops. Possibly, there could be uses for these findings in wheat, rice, or cassava. These are important staple crops in many places around the world."
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