Ten thousand years ago, individuals in central Mexico harvested this new version of grain, derived from a wild plant, Teosinte that remained attached to the central rachis of the flower instead of shattering. They realized the increased carbohydrate increased the flour available for cooking. The annual plant spread by humans throughout the Americas for the next eight thousand years as others moved the seed to their environment, annually selecting genetics that performed best in their environment and their culture. This history of annual selection for adaptation in multiple places, separation of male and female flowers and unique C4 photosynthesis has attracted people to this species each harvest season since that initial discovery in Mexico.
All corn people from the first to those in 2018 have to be impressed with what they saw with corn. Kernel color or hardness, or amount of grain variation allowed selecting and saving desired genetics. Superior harvest was supported by the variety having resistance to local disease pressure, root structure adapted to local soils, timing of pollination matching weather conditions and maturity adapted to time between freezing.
It became apparent over a hundred years ago that crossing varieties adapted to different environments could result in new corn varieties superior to either of the two parents. This ultimately led to concentrated efforts to match breeding populations that contribute genes resulting in superior hybrid performance. With nearly 40,000 genes to work with corn breeders have realized the wealth of genetic diversity that this history has wrought.
We humans have pushed this energy converting crop to increasing yields in multiple environments. Every corn grower will be evaluating the current varieties to choose hybrids for the next season. Every corn breeder share in the excitement at harvest time as they witness the progress within the genetics that they select. Corn gains each year in some aspect of production due to the tremendous genetic diversity due to people’s selection for their preference over the past 10,000 years. It is historic!
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.