With its original investment in a seed, and some outside investment in tillage, fertilizer, insect control and weed control, the single seed provides the energy to emerge from the soil. For the next 40-60 days the young plant uses free light energy to multiply its size. Light energy is absorbed in chloroplasts with a portion of the energy tied up in bonding carbon dioxide and water molecules into carbohydrates. Some of this molecule bonding energy is released in mitochondria in the form of ATP molecules, that assist in production of more complex carbohydrates such as cellulose for more cell walls and more proteins as cells grow. The new proteins are dictated by DNA, as it’s nucleic acid code is translated to RNA that is moved to cell ribosomes, where the code attracts amino acids to be attached in an order required for a specific protein.
These processes within that plant results in leaf growth, therefore accelerating the absorption of light. Root growth allows more mineral and water, providing and increasing the supply of some raw materials for manufacture cell components. Increasing leaf size increases movement of CO2 through stomata, although with the cost of some water loss during the day. The cost is minimized by stomata closing at night.
Most of the energy absorbed by chloroplasts is used to create new leaf tissue until the hormone changes within the plant stimulates the growing point initially very near the soil surface to begin producing new cells and elongating the cells in place. Plant energy is now shifted to elongation of the stem as it becomes a temporary carbohydrate storage location. After expending energy to produce pollen and ovules in the ear, the new energy production in leaves and stored energy from stalks is moved to the growing kernels for another 50-60 days.
The result of self-investment from that one kernel and outside investment of the farmer, with utilization of free light energy, the return is 500-700 kernels. This is a superior pyramid scheme!
Of course, humans assisted along the way with breeding and selecting the right genetics, seed producers for growing and caring for the original seed and farmers in choosing and cultivating the hybrid seed. Corn is a remarkable plant for conversion of free energy into multiplication of itself.
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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.