The future security of the world’s food supply will depend on our ability to improve the quality and quantity of grain we can produce. In corn, the nutritional quality of the grain is dependent on the accumulation of protein, and the yield size is dependent on the accumulation of starch.
Researchers from Rutgers University believe that they have discovered the genetic regulators that produce protein and starch in corn, which could lead to improvements in future crops.
Each corn kernel is made of three key parts, the pericarp which is the outer layer, the germ or embryo which contains the genetic information, and the endosperm, which contains starch and protein (the white fluffy part of popcorn). Domestication of corn and modern breeding practices have led to an increase in starch content in the endosperm, but a decrease in protein content.
To correct this imbalance, and make corn more nutritionally sound, the researchers believe we need to block a key protein found in corn kernels known as zeins. This, they say, will lead to higher levels of the essential amino acid lysine in the corn kernels, improving the nutritional quality.
The team also discovered two genetic regulators that are responsible for the regulation of protein and starch synthesis in the endosperm of corn kernels. This research will pave the way for future studies to more fully understand the molecular basis of the balance between nutritional quality, and yield size in corn.
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