What Is a Maize Genome?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A maize genome is a complete copy of the genetic material contained in a varietal of maize, also known as corn. Zea mays has been bred and genetically modified extensively to produce a range of cultivars. Some of these are regarded as their own subspecies, while others are not genetically distinct enough to be true subspecies. Sequencing their genetics provides important information about how maize develops and matures, and helps researchers identify the differences between varieties.

The yield of an Individual maize plant is determined by its genome.
The yield of an Individual maize plant is determined by its genome.

Developing a maize genome takes time. Researchers need to painstakingly duplicate the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and use sequencing machines to correctly identify the amino acids that make up strings of the organism’s genetic code. This includes active genes that play a role in plant development along with noncoding DNA. The first complete maize genome was B73, a popular commercial cultivar of the plant grown widely throughout the world.

Information about maize genetics has a number of applications. It can be used to learn more about the history of the plant, and to compare domesticated strains of corn with suspected wild relatives. Genetic sequencing may also show how cross-pollination occurs, and can allow researchers to identify genetic contamination. For example, a crop of maize may reveal that it has interbred with genetically modified specimens, or with cultivars that farmers did not intend to cross it with.

Genetics can also show researchers how specific traits like high oil content and sweetness express. This can allow them to develop genetically modified strains of maize with more commercial value. Corn used to produce bio fuels, for example, needs a very high oil content. Sweet corn for the table might benefit from a higher expression of sugars. The maize genome also allows agricultural investigators to develop more hardy strains capable of resisting disease and poor weather conditions.

Copies of the maize genome are available from a number of resources. Researchers can compare genetic information from different strains, and may contribute corrections or annotations to existing genomes. Annotations provide information about the specific function of DNA, which is the next stage in genome research. After scientists figure out what is in an organism’s genetic code with a genome sequence, they need to learn what it does and annotate it for the benefit of other researchers. This may take years of research to locate genes and determine what they do when turned off and on or modified in controlled environments.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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