It is difficult to imagine 32000 genes distributed among the 10 chromosomes in the nucleus of a single cell within the embryo of the corn seed. But the microscopic cell also contains many other substances that contribute to cell function once it is activated with germination. Proteins and lipids contribute to the function of the outer plasma membrane surrounding the cell, but membrane-like structures also are intertwined within the cells. Endoplasmic reticulum is used to transport cell products. Ribosomes are attached to the outside of ‘rough’ endoplasmic reticulum. These ribosomes are the organelles in which RNA codes, originating from the DNA, are used to link the amino acids to form proteins. Adjacent endoplasmic reticulum is used to transport the newly formed proteins to sites in the cell appropriate for that protein’s function.
Mitochondria, independent organelles within the cell, are the site of transferring glucose molecules in the chemical energy used by other cell functions. These organelles, carried along in the egg cell from the maternal parent plant, have their own DNA for genetics but are dependent on the rest of the cell and nuclear DNA to provide the glucose, proteins and lipids for structure and function. This symbiotic relationship is in all animal, plant and fungal species, originating a few billion years ago and certainly is significant in corn performance. Mutations in the mitochondria DNA are the source of cytoplasmic male sterility, at least partly because of a genetic defect in the outer membrane of the mitochondria results in defective pollen production. This sterility affect can be overcome by products coded in the nuclear DNA of corn, the male sterile restorer genes. However, the specific mutation to URF13 gene in mitochondria with T cytoplasm, not only cause sterility but also increased susceptibility to certain pathogen toxins such that produced by race T of Bipolaris maydis, resulting the disastrous epidemic of 1970 corn crop. This toxin destroyed mitochondrial function, reducing the plant’s ability to produce normal pathogen-inhibiting resistance chemicals.
DNA of chromosomes in the cell nucleus is, by far, the largest, affecting most cell functions, but the much smaller amounts of DNA in mitochondria and plastids are essential and interdependent with the nuclear genes.
It’s the activity within the corn cells that drives the growth of the corn plant.
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.