Corn in transition
.Changes in approaches to corn breeding in early 1900’s was concurrent with knowledge of genetics of all biological forms. Corn breeding up to this time had been done predominantly by farmers and others, selecting for practical features of ear shape, kernel characters, adaptation of local environment and personal choice. The result was multiples of varieties and sub-varieties. Separation of male and female structures assured ease of mixing genetics within a variety and selecting preferred ears.
At the same time, researchers' understanding of genetics of any organism was moving towards trying to understand how did traits get transferred to the next generation. The terms ‘gene’ and ‘genetics’ were not established until 1909! Academically-trained researchers were becoming interested in maize to better understand inheritance. G.H. Shull, purifying corn traits by selfing while at a New York Experimental station. E.M. East at Connecticut Experimental station and his student, H.K. Hayes at University of Minnesota, realized that the move to crossing the trait-pure inbreds from different varieties could result in huge yield gains. They worked to convince seed producers that at least double cross hybrids could be economic. The ideas, and the yields, caught on in the 1930’s and momentum expedited quickly.
The timing of this move, beginning with the interest of how genetics works by purifying trait genes in inbreds and then in hybrids of corn showed the yield benefits of producing hybrids. Although research in trait genetics was incentive for more of the academically inclined, it should not be forgotten, especially in the commercial world, that much of the selection of premier inbreds was done by less academic, hands-on corn breeders, selecting for those that performed well in yield trials. That combination continues today as a pursuit of knowledge of corn genetics concurs with practical breeding for increased performance in today’s environments.
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About Corn Journal
The purpose of this blog is to share perspectives of the biology of corn, its seed and diseases in a mix of technical and not so technical terms with all who are interested in this major crop. With more technical references to any of the topics easily available on the web with a search of key words, the blog will rarely cite references but will attempt to be accurate. Comments are welcome but will be screened before publishing. Comments and questions directed to the author by emails are encouraged.