b"Lowering Protein Buckler realizes this will take some One key goal for the team is to decreasetime to implement.corns protein level. Because nitrogenI think some of the things like lower is key to protein synthesis, less proteingrain protein, we can start to select means less required nitrogen. on right away so theres less nitrogen For the most part, lower-protein corndemand, Buckler says. Cold tolerance is will not affect its end-use value, as cornsa hard trait.primary value is its starch content. In a traditional dry-grind ethanol productionHigh-tech Solutionsprocess, for example, ethanol is producedHe believes genomic tools will make cold from corns starch content, not its protein.tolerance possible.When corn is used for hog or poultry feed,We've been able to use all these the primary feed value is in the cornsWolfgang Busch examines legumes that aregenomic tools to look at about 500 starch and synthetic amino acids can bedistantly related to soybean.PHOTO: SALK INSTITUTE wild species related to corn, Buckler added to fulfill protein requirements.says. The first corn genome cost about What we want is to shift to a system$30 million to sequence and now we've where we build up a large pool of organicbeen able to look at 500 other species a nitrogen (in the soil), Buckler says.decade later for maybe a couple million Then we essentially reuse that and itdollars.cycles through so we can apply a lot lessHaving available wild species from fertilizer. We can then cut down on bothwhich to draw desired traits speeds the nitrous oxide and the leaching problem. process. Researchers have started iden-tifying the wild relatives genes and are Earlier Planting testing key genes to cross into corn. Another key opportunity the researchI think at the end of five years, we'll team is tackling to make more efficienthave identified the key genes we need use of nitrogen is earlier planting. InEdward Buckler is a research geneticistfor this process, and then at that point we early spring, soil microbes wake up andwith the USDA-ARS. will work carefully with industry to start naturally convert significant amounts ofdeploying those in the next five years, nitrogen to nitrate in the soil. Becausegen from leaves and stems back to theirBuckler says.crops arent generally planted so early,roots at the end of the growing season,He further explains that researchers this nitrate isnt absorbed by plants.which is what perennial plants do.can use standard breeding and transgen-Rather, it tends to be lost into the waterCorn has wild relatives with thisics, but that the most efficient method system and to the atmosphere. Shiftingdesired trait. For example, gamagrasslikely is gene editing. planting earlier would enable crops tois cold tolerant, used for forage, andCorn is an annual, and its closest wild use that early nitrogen, which Bucklergrows as far north as Wisconsin andrelatives are annuals, Buckler says. But if explains would substantially cut downMassachusetts. Maize has a perennialyou go back in time, all its ancestors were nitrogen losses. In the Midwest that mightwild relative found in Mexico called Zeaperennials. Were just adding little bits of mean planting at the beginning of Aprildiploperennis that remobilizes nitrogen atthat back in.instead of May. the end of the growing season back downBucklers team has worked in close In the southern parts of the U.S., weto its roots. consultation with corn grower groups and are even considering making corn cold- We're not going to make a perennialforesees maintaining yields, if not improv-hardy enough that it may be more likecrop, but these relatives of corn have alling them.winter wheat, Buckler says. That essen- the traits we want, Buckler says. WeIf were planting earlier, every few tially makes corn into its own cover crop. know the genetics we need to achievedegrees of cold tolerance we get a yield Buckler says developing cold-hardythis type of thing are already out there,bump, Buckler explains. If we can corn that suits areas where wintertimeand we think that this set of traits canachieve overwintering in parts of the temperatures go as cold as about 20Fprovide some real benefit when com- Southern U.S., we might see up to a 30% could be achievable in the long term.bined with a range of other agronomicyield bump. approaches. With this type of corn inI think that the wins in dealing with Natural Nitrogen Cycling conjunction with improved rotations andnitrogen are threefoldfewer input costs, A third way the research team is strivingfertilizer applications, we think we're onless water pollution, and fewer green-to improve nitrogen use efficiency is bythe order of cutting down greenhousehouse gas emissions. Whichever perspec-plant breeding: introducing genetics thatgas emissions by over 50% and reducingtive you're coming at this from, we all would enable corn plants to move nitro- fertilizer inputs by over 50%.want this to work.SW66/ SEEDWORLD.COMINTERNATIONAL EDITION 2024"