Tech Tuesday

Corn Reveals New Secrets

Genome map for corn could unlock ways to develop new hybrids and a soy component could fight one form of cancer.

The mapping of the corn genome has helped plant geneticists identify thousands of diverse genes in what were inaccessible portions of the genome. New techniques may allow breeders and researchers to use that genetic variation to identify desirable traits and create new hybrids that weren't easily possible before, according to researchers at Cornell University.

The researchers have identified the first map of haplotypes, which are sets of closely linked gene variants called alleles. They have mapped several million allele variants among 27 diverse inbred corn lines. The lines include a cross-section of types used in breeding while also representing global diversity.

The haplotype map will help researchers find molecular markers and tools that breeders can use to study corn and corn varieties. In the past century, breeders have found limits in recombination - the ability to shuffle genetic variation - when large regions of genetic material fail to recombine. They usually counter this by crossing two complementary lines, which offers a new line with a higher yield and more vigor.

But since large areas of the corn chromosome are less accessible, breeders can't always arrive at the best genetic combinations. This new work may help unlock those inaccessible areas.

Soy May be Cancer Beater. Scientists working at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland (Calif.) have identified a new class of therapeutic agents found naturally in soy that can prevent and possibly treat colon cancer. Sphingadienes - called SDs - are natural lipid molecules found in soy that research shows may be the key to fighting colon cancer.

The study of the new compound was featured in the Dec. 15 edition of Cancer Research. Soy has a reputation as a protective from colon cancer, and this discovery of SDs may show how that works. It appears that SDs are cytotoxic, or cell killers. Treating colon cancer usually involves focusing on cell death. Coupling this discovery with the finding that soy is a rich source of SDs, allowed researchers to make the connection.

Future research is needed on how best to deliver SDs and to confirm toxicity when the compounds are used for extended periods of time, but researchers are hopeful about the outcome of their work.

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