Current and future students of corn have multiple avenues to follow their interests. This species, because of its efficiency in transferring light energy into products useful to humans, its unique historic developmental interaction with people, and its basic biology encourages study at sub-cellular level as well as crop production.
Advances in molecular genetics increasingly attempts to understand what those 30-40000 genes are actually doing in the cells. What determines the timing of a particular piece of DNA to be activated. A single gene consisting of a string of multiple, often more than 100, nucleic acids codes for production of a specific protein. A mutation that may only result in one of the nucleic acids, can result in significant change in the protein structure and function. Many of the proteins are biologically active as enzymes influencing the chemical pathways to production of important organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, both of which have their own DNA, ultimately influencing the transforming light energy into energy for growth of the plant.
Variability in the DNA code among corn varieties also allows for creation of morphological differences in corn plants. This is expressed from the time of germination until completion of the life cycle of the plant. Plants that have identical DNA, such as inbreds and single cross hybrids, will have identical morphology if grown in uniform environments. Careful study of the morphology leads to the realization that each inbred and each single cross hybrid expresses structural characters unique to that genetics. These are expressed at each growth stage from germination to mature plant. The huge number of genes in corn results in expression, whether related to grain production or not, but some simply codes for unique leaf shape, root growth direction, ear height, husk coverage and tassel branches. There are also multiple characters that we do not necessarily see, such as resistance to a disease that is not occurring where the crop is grown.
Corn is grown in multiple environments within a field and from tropical to very temperate countries. Students of the agronomy of corn research for best methods to increase efficient production from corn in each environment. Theoretically, each genotype has a unique requirement for best production but the variability in soils and weather contributes to difficulty of matching the genetics with the crop production methods.
There is room for studies of nearly all aspects of the biology of corn, from the lab to the field. We still have a lot to learn from the specifics of a physiological process that occurs within cells to the expression of genetics at the whole plant level. Everyone involved with this crop becomes a student of the corn.
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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.