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UC Riverside Researchers Develop Low-Carb Corn with Enhanced Protein and Oil

The Issue

UC Riverside Researchers Develop Low-Carb Corn with Enhanced Protein and Oil
Fused embryos in a corn kernel, shown in the above micrograph and photograph, doubles the protein and oil content over a corn kernel from a non-modified plant.
Projected world population growth from the current 6 billion to between 8 and 12 billion by the year 2050 is expected to outstrip food production. Over the last several decades, the Green Revolution has yielded many improvements in agricultural practices that increased crop productivity in the world’s most important cereal grains. But the agricultural practices adopted during the Green Revolution are unlikely to generate the productivity gains needed in the future.

What Has ANR Done?

A research team at UC Riverside led by biochemist Daniel R. Gallie has developed a technology that doubles the protein and oil content of corn while reducing its carbohydrate content. Dr. Gallie, along with postdoctoral associates Todd Young and Jane Giesler-Lee, reported the findings in the June 2004 issue of The Plant Journal. Flowers in the corn ear ordinarily develop in pairs but one from each pair aborts before pollination can occur. Because of the role that the plant hormone cytokinin plays in preventing organ death, the researchers reasoned that cytokinin might rescue flowers which were destined to abort. They introduced a gene that enabled production of cytokinin in developing flowers. Introduction of the gene prevented flower abortion and, importantly, the kernels produced from pairs of flowers fused into a single normal-sized kernel that contained two embryos and a smaller endosperm. Because it is the embryo that contains the majority of protein and oil, the presence of two embryos doubles their content in corn grain. The reduction in the size of the endosperm in the kernel, the tissue that contains most of the carbohydrate, means that the nutritional value of the grain has been improved considerably. The project was funded by the University of California Agricultural Experiment Station, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation.

The Payoff

Improved Cereal Grains Could Help Feed the World's Growing Population

The findings may provide a useful approach toward the goal of feeding the world’s population. Cereal grains are the most important crops to humanity, used for animal feed, for production of oil, protein, and starch, and for feeding the majority of the world’s population. As the oil content of corn is especially valuable, increasing the amount of oil will increase the profitability of this crop to farmers. Specifically, the findings are important in that they will help plant breeders improve the nutrient and economic value of corn. Such improvement would be particularly important for those who depend on grain as their primary source of dietary protein.

Contact

Supporting Unit:

CNAS Dean's Office at UCR
 
Dr. Daniel R. Gallie, Boyce Hall 3432
UC Riverside, P(951) 827-7298, F(951) 827-4434
daniel.gallie@ucr.edu, http://www.biochemistry.ucr.edu/faculty/gallie.html