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Geneticist to share grant to study corn genome

January 13, 2004 By Sarah Aldridge

The National Science Foundation has awarded $10 million to a team of researchers headed by geneticist John Doebley to study the molecular and functional diversity of the maize (corn) genome. The five-year Plant Genome Research Program grant will fund research at six institutions: UW–Madison, Cornell University, University of California-Irvine, North Carolina State University, University of Missouri-Columbia and Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

“My main focus is genetic control, the differences between corn and its wild relative teosinte,” a wild grass native to Mexico and Central America, Doebley says. Teosinte is corn’s closest relative, with 10 pairs of chromosomes, just like those of maize.

Thousands of years ago, the first farmers in Mexico collected teosinte, planted it, harvested a crop and then planted it again. “The farmers selected teosinte for traits that made it a better crop,” Doebley says. “They converted it into corn through selecting favorable genes and leaving behind unfavorable genes. My part of the project is focused on finding the genes they selected for. I want to understand how these genes changed when corn was domesticated.”

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