Maize is one of the most consumed elements on earth and it should come as no surprise, therefore, that this plant is one of the most studied by scientists. In particular, methods are being studied to make its cultivation and growth increasingly efficient not only for human food but also for animal feed and the production of biofuels.
One of the paths that scientists take to achieve these results is to make the maize plant grow better at lower temperatures. Let us remember that it is always a tropical plant that is very sensitive to cold. While a lot of progress has been made in recent decades in relation to the areas where this plant can be grown, creating a true cold tolerant variety would greatly expand the latitudes at which this plant can be grown, with enormous benefits for virtually the whole of humanity.
This is precisely the route being taken by researchers led by David Stern, President of the Boyce Thompson Institute. The team has in fact developed a new variety of maize that can recover very quickly after an intense cold phase. In the study, published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, they describe how they arrived at the result by growing various maize plants for three weeks by lowering and raising the temperature to provide a thermal shock to the plant.
They eventually managed to engineer a new type of maize plant that, compared to normal, shows higher photosynthesis rates and recovers much faster from thermal shocks. These gave them less damage to the molecules.
The result? A taller plant that develops ripe ears of corn faster after a period of cold weather.
The approach they used saw the introduction of increasing levels of an enzyme called rubisco. This enzyme is used by plants to convert carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere into sugar. This same approach, according to the researchers, can also be used for other crop plants such as sorghum and sugar cane.
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