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article imageScientists reveal the genetic history of corn

By Tim Sandle     Jan 11, 2015 in Environment
A genetic analysis of ancient and modern maize has revealed the crop’s complex domestication history. It began as a Mexican wild grass and developed into the plant capable of being used to produce corn porridge and tortillas.
The history of modern-day maize begins at the dawn of human agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. In outlining the history of maize, scientists have established maize was domesticated from teosinte, a type of wild Mexican grass. Teosintes are found in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
From this point, the spread of corn into what is now the southwestern U.S. is more difficult to disentangle. Here archaeological evidence indicates a link with maize from either Mexico’s central highlands or the Pacific coast.
An international team led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark has performed next-generation genetic sequencing on 32 ancient corn samples covering a period of 6,000 years. They have compared and contrasted the ancient genes to those of modern maize. The results indicate that the maize originally brought to the southwestern U.S. came from the Mexican highlands around 4,000 years ago, while genotypes from coastal areas entered the mix some 2,000 years later.
According to the website Science,the results show that farmers in the region were crossing in varieties from elsewhere to keep improving maize through time. The findings also track the ancestries of traits such as drought tolerance, nutrition, and chemical properties relevant to making corn porridge and tortillas.
The research has been reported to the journal Nature Plants. The paper is headed "The origin and evolution of maize in the Southwestern United States."
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