Researchers discover ‘nourishing gene’ in maize

In the future producers could benefit from increased seed size and productivity of maize crops, following the discovery of the “nourishing gene” in the plant.

Scientists at the University of Warwick have identified a gene, named Meg1, which regulates the optimum amount of nutrients flowing from mother to offspring in maize plants.

This particular type of gene expression, known as imprinting, also occurs in human genes such as those responsible for the development of the placenta, but this is the first time scientists have found a similar gene in the plant world.

It is now hoped researchers will be able to focus more on using the gene and understanding how it is expressed as a means of increasing seed size and productivity in major crop plants.

Dr Jose Gutierrez-Marcos, associate professor at the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences, said: “These findings have significant implications for global agriculture and food security, as scientists now have the molecular know-how to manipulate this gene by traditional plant breeding or through other methods to improve seed traits, such as increased seed biomass yield.

“This understanding of how maize seeds and other cereal grains develop – for example in rice and what – is vital as the global population rely on these staple products for sustenance.

“To meet the demands of the world’s growing population in years to come, scientists and breeders must work together to safeguard and increase agricultural production.”

Professor Hugh Dickinson from Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, added: “While the identification of Meg1 is an important discovery in its own right, it also represents a real breakthrough in unravelling the complex gene pathways that regulate the provisioning and nutritional content of seeds.”

The research was carried out in collaboration with Oxford University and agricultural biotech research company Biogemma.

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