News / USA

Scientists Developing Drought-Tolerant Maize for Hotter Future

New corn varieties designed to adapt to changing climate

Multimedia

Audio

Maize crops withered in Texas this year in a season of record-breaking heat and drought. In the Texas High Plains region, crops struggled to survive on as little as one-tenth of the normal rainfall.

“Matter of fact, it may be the all-time driest year on record,” says Thomas Marek, an irrigation expert with Texas A&M University.

Experts warn that climate change is likely to threaten world food supplies as temperature extremes cut harvests of important food crops. Scientists are working to develop new varieties that are adapted to a changing climate.

So, while this was a terrible year for farmers, for Marek and his colleagues, it was just about perfect. At a research station an hour north of Amarillo, they work to prepare farmers for hotter, drier years ahead.

“It’s going to become more and more important,"  says Wenwei Xu, who leads the team’s maize breeding efforts. "Because, with climate change, cold places are getting colder, warm places are getting hotter. When it gets hot, you get drought.”

Hot weather and drought turn maize plants brown. That means the end of photosynthesis, which is how maize plants turn sunlight into starchy kernels.

Texas scientists are using traditional breeding, rather than genetic engineering, to develop new varieties of maize that adapt to a changing climate.
Texas scientists are using traditional breeding, rather than genetic engineering, to develop new varieties of maize that adapt to a changing climate.

But Xu’s colleague, Qingwu Xue, identified genes that help some tropical maize varieties stay green longer under these conditions.

“If they stay green longer, they can photosynthesize longer," says Xue. "Once they photosynthesize longer, they can fill their grain for a longer time.”

Plants that stay green longer produce bigger kernels in a drought year. The team mated maize with the stay-green genes with other high-producing varieties to find offspring with the best of both. They used traditional breeding rather than genetic engineering, which is more heavily regulated.

But finding that perfect maize variety is not an easy task.

“There’s no free rides in this," Marek says. "So, when you put a gene in or a characteristic in, you might take a little bit off the maximum production. But then, we don’t know what Mother Nature’s going to hold for that year.”

This year, when Mother Nature was not kind to conventional maize, stay-green varieties produced bigger ears with more kernels than those without the trait. It’s a promising step, but it will take more work before these drought-hardy seeds are available for farmers. When they are, the benefits will reach far beyond the United States, Xu says.

“Once we discover this drought-tolerant corn, this germplasm can be used throughout the world.”

And the world will need it as climate change makes it harder to feed a growing population.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid