The future of genetics is corny

Elizabeth Pennisi's story about maize genomics is a good reminder for why biology will continue to grow in importance toward our understanding of human history:

With $9.1 million from the Mexican government, Jean-Philippe Vielle-Calzada of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato and his colleagues have decoded a native "popcorn" strain grown at elevations above 2000 meters. Although still in more than 100,000 pieces, the sequence has revealed many new genes, he reported. This variety's genome "will be of tremendous value in terms of understanding the evolution of [maize] domestication," he says.

Oh, and if you're interested in biology, consider the potential experiments from this:

Another resource introduced at the meeting will help ... sort out how genes interact. The agribusiness giant Syngenta announced it was making available 7500 lines of corn, each representing a B73 genome with a single piece of DNA bred into it from one of the 25 strains of the Maize Diversity Project. Taken together, the lines incorporate all the genetic diversity of those strains but make it easier to understand the activity of particular genes. The community has long awaited these tools, says Brutnell: "They are really going to revolutionize the way we do genetics."

I'd say. Imagine 7500 twins, all identical except for a unique piece of DNA spliced in from some other person. Except with corn, it's not 7500 twins, its 7500 experimental plots full of twins. Now, see what they all do!


Pennisi E 2008. Corn genomics pop wide open. Science 319:1333. doi:10.1126/science.319.5868.1333