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Maize's starch pathway found limited

In the first look at the molecular diversity of the starch pathway in maize, research at North Carolina State University has found that - in contrast to the high amount of diversity in many of the maize genes previously studied - there is a general dearth of diversity in this particular pathway.

That's important, says Dr. Ed Buckler, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) researcher, assistant professor of genetics at NC State and one of the study's lead researchers, because molecular diversity essentially provides scientists and plant breeders the raw materials to make the crop better.

"Starch is the main product of maize, and is one of the pathways we want to change the most," Buckler says. "People want to use corn for sweeteners, ethanol production and processed food needs. But some of the genes in the starch pathway cannot be manipulated any more by normal breeding."

Buckler and colleagues at NC State and the University of California, Irvine, publish their findings in the Oct. 1 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The online version of the paper was released on Sept. 20.

In an interesting side note to the research on diversity in maize's starch pathway, the team also conclusively identified the single nucleotide - or structural unit of a nucleic acid - responsible for the production of sweet corn in the United States. Previous research by Dr. Martha James at Iowa State University had narrowed the possibilities down to two nucleotides, according to Buckler. Sweet corn was one of the first mutations discovered in the field of genetics; that discovery occurred about 100 years ago, Buckler says.

"Currently, the identification of the U.S. sweet corn mutation is of historical and basic research interest, but in the future it could help lead to a sweet corn with a good balance of sweetness, creaminess and germination ability," Buckler said.

Buckler says limited di
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