Corn is one of the most common crops in the world, but growing it in the northern part of the globe remains challenging because it does not tolerate the cold well. But that could change as scientists develop better varieties. Led by Professor David Stern, researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute in New York state first studied a naturally occurring enzyme called RuBisCO. Previous studies have shown that when the amount of the substance increases in plants, they grow and mature more quickly.
With this in mind, Stern’s team created a variety of corns that produce higher-than-normal amounts of enzymes. In the experiment, the genetically modified plants grew at a temperature of 25oC (77oF) with regular corn for three weeks, then reduced to 14oC (57oF) for two weeks before rising to 25 degrees.
This is done to simulate the cold that occurs when corn crops are sown in the spring and then expose them to cold weather. Typically, when this happens, the plant grows at a much lower rate, and by the time the temperature recovers, maturity may be affected, and harvest work may delay or even lead to a reduction in production.
However, corn rich in RuBisCO is not. It showed a higher photosynthesis rate throughout the experiment than the control plant. After cooling, the modified plants recover faster because they do less damage to the molecules that perform photosynthesis processes. As a result, the new varieties grew taller than the control plants and produced mature corn spikes more quickly.
Scientists are now working to make engineered corn more powerful to adapt to the changing climate.
“The corn we’re developing hasn’t fully optimized its cold resistance, so we’re planning improvements for the next generation,” Stern said. “For example, it would be interesting to add a low-temperature PPDK protein to the corn to see if it performs better. “
A paper on the study was recently published in the Journal of Plant Biotechnology.