Drought-tolerant genetically modified maize could be available in the USA by 2012, after the discovery of a new gene by BASF and Monsanto scientists.

The naturally occurring gene has been identified in bacteria subjected to cold stress. Further research demonstrated it helps plants cope with drought pressures, by maintaining growth during times of inactive water supply.

The announcement comes at a time when studies are warning of decreased yields as a result of climate change.

Trials conducted last year showed that the new variety increased yields by 6-10% in the Great Western Plains, a drought-prone area in the country.

The firms are already working on a second generation of drought-tolerant plants.