Seed World

Research on Heat-Tolerant Corn Wins Award

Field corn is one of the world’s most important cereal grains, and efforts to develop new heat-tolerant varieties of this crop have earned national recognition for a scientific team led by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences molecular geneticist Curt Hannah.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recognized the team at a Washington, D.C. event by presenting a NIFA Partnership Award to a member of the team, Mark Settles, a professor with the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department. The team included faculty members with UF, Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin and involved more than 30 people altogether.

“Speaking for the team, I think we are all happy and humbled to receive this prestigious award,” Hannah says.

This is the fifth time in six years that UF/IFAS project teams have won NIFA Partnership Awards, a tribute to the high quality of UF/IFAS teaching, research and Extension initiatives, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“In the NIFA Partnership Awards Program, our projects are evaluated alongside submissions representing the best of the best from across the nation,” says Payne. “It’s thrilling to know that our people have been selected for these awards in five of the past six years. If this were baseball, we’d have an .833 batting average. That kind of consistency doesn’t happen through random chance; it’s proof that UF/IFAS personnel are doing amazing things.”

This year’s award was in the Multistate Efforts category, because the project involved research in Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin, and sought to boost future field corn yields across a dozen states. In the project, researchers located and developed heat-tolerant versions of enzymes involved in the chemical synthesis of starch, a process that occurs inside developing corn kernels.

Starch accounts for about 70 percent of the dry weight of a corn kernel and provides most of the food value in corn grain, Hannah said. In many current field corn varieties, starch production is negatively impacted when daytime temperatures exceed 33 degrees Celsius, or about 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

The project was another step toward safeguarding the world’s field corn supply from climate variability and future elevated temperatures, he said, adding that members of the team hope to secure additional funding to continue building on some of their early findings.