Trait technology is a billion-dollar business, spanning the globe and enhancing the productivity of a variety of crops. In the United States, the utilization of transgenic (genetically engineered) traits has revolutionized the production of corn. The drought of 2012, however, has clearly demonstrated that there is a need for an alternative trait technology, specifically the ability to exploit traits that exist in ancestral strains of corn. Such native traits are likely to become increasingly important as scientists, farmers, and other stakeholders confront the challenge of producing more food and fiber even when environmental conditions are unfavorable.The purpose of this blog is to share the results of a long-term collaborative effort to develop native traits in corn. Sponsored by FCR (Friedrich Consulting & Research, LLC), this effort has focused on enhanced seed yield (ESY), cold tolerance (CT), and, more recently, drought resistance. The participation of both large and small companies has been vital to this effort. Readers are invited to use the Comments Section below. Comments will not be shared with the general public without prior approval. Alternatively, readers may contact FCR directly by using the Contacts Page.
Sources of Native Traits in Corn
Native traits, by definition, are traits that are obtained from the natural germplasm pool of a species, in this case, corn. The USDA Plant Introduction Station maintains a vast repository of corn strains (accessions). Most of these strains predate modern hybrid corn production and cannot be used in commercial corn breeding without considerable effort and expense. Nonetheless, these original native strains were often grown in less than ideal environments and not surprisingly, are a rich source of traits such as cold tolerance or drought resistance. The challenge in using these so-called exotic strains is to identify a promising source of a target trait and then to efficiently transfer the trait to a modern line of corn.
Trait Selection Technology
At FCR, we have spent many years perfecting an effective technique for identifying and transferring desirable native traits. We use a unique proprietary technique described simply as single plant selection (SPS). This screening technique minimizes the effects of variability within the research plot. Individual plants that carry a desired trait can be identified and the trait transferred to an elite line of corn. We have focused exclusively on traits that are amenable to per se selection. That is, selection is practiced within the ancestral strains themselves (per se) rather than hybrids made from lines developed from the ancestral strains. Thus, there is a savings in both time and money. Hybrid testing is required only for demonstrating the practical benefit of a particular native trait. For more information, please contact us or visit this page.
“The art of finding good things in unexpected places.”
The drought of 2012 has led to an unexpected discovery: The cold tolerance (CT) trait that we had previously identified was found to improve resistance to drought. Plans are being made to release the CT trait to the seed corn industry in the near future.