Study: Corn genome reveals 'amazing protein diversity'

"It begins to reveal new functional parts that we didn’t know about before," explained researcher Doreen Ware.
By Brooks Hays   |   June 24, 2016 at 11:13 AM
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COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y., June 24 (UPI) -- New analysis of the corn plant's genome suggests its genetic resources are surprisingly diverse.

"Our new research establishes the amazing diversity of maize, even beyond what we already knew was there," Doreen Ware, a USDA researcher at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, said in a news release. "This diversity is fascinating in its own right and at the same time has great import for agriculture."

Ware was a member of a team of scientists who in 2009 sequenced, for the first time, the genome of a corn variety known as B73. The latest research offers a new look at corn's more than 30,000 genes, this time in greater detail.

New sequencing technologies have allowed Ware and her colleagues to study the RNA messages triggered when the corn's genes are expressed, or activated. The updated sequencing yielded 111,151 RNA transcripts, expressed by genes from six different maize tissues.

"These were the messages that told us that our efforts to annotate and characterize the 2009 maize reference genome have been far from complete," explained Bo Wang, a postdoctoral researcher working in Ware's lab.

Wang is the first author of a new paper on corn's RNA messaging, published in the journal Nature Communications.

Just as different literary critics or readers can offer varying interpretations of a text, the genetic code of a plant or animal can be expressed in myriad ways. The combinations of different segments of code to create varied RNA messages is called "splicing."

New sequencing technologies are allowing researchers to better understand the genetic potential offered by splicing. As a result, scientists are able to reveal the potential for adaptation present in the genetic reserves of vital food crops like corn -- reserves that might be used to adapt to climate change.

"It begins to reveal new functional parts that we didn't know about before," explained Ware. "By having insight into what those other parts are and what they do, we begin to realize new ways of breeding corn, adapting it, for example, to changes in climate as average annual temperatures in growing zones continue to climb."

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