Corn Yields Boosted 50 Percent by Biotechnologists

Malthusians are never right and never win.


Jackson Lab: Cold Spring Harbor

Nature Genetics has published an article with the catchy title, "Signaling from maize organ primordia via FASCIATED EAR3 regulates stem cell proliferation and yield traits," that describes how researchers have bioengineered corn so that yields are boosted by 50 percent. Basically, a team of biologists at Cold Spring Harbor have figured out a way to modulate the molecular brakes that tell ears of corn to stop growing once they reach a certain size. Mutations in the FEA3 receptor eases off the brakes and allows stem cells that grow into kernels of corn to proliferate, but not so much so that they outrun the availability of nutrients, water, and light to sustain their development. This bioengineered change in the FEA3 pathway, according to Cold Spring Harbor, "gave rise to a modest, manageable increase in stem cells, and to ears that were significantly larger than ears in wild-type plants.These ears, the product of maize plants grown from weak alleles of FEA3, had more rows of kernels, and up to 50% higher yield overall than wild-type plants."

The researchers further note that the newly discovered pathway is highly conserved across the plant kingdom, which means that the discovery "holds the prospect of translating into significant increases in yield in all the major staple crops." Just this one gene tweak goes a long way toward fulfilling the USDA's projection of "a 75-percent increase in total production and consumption of major field crops between 2005 and 2050. This increase is larger than the 43-percent increase in global population projected for the same period, reflecting increasing per capita growth in income and the associated increase in consumption of animal products in developing countries."

Malthusians lose again.

Hat tip Richard Rohde.