Climate change is causing longer droughts, more intense heat, and unpredictable storms that drastically change local environments. At the same time, the human population is growing, increasing the demand for food that is cultivated on increasingly fragile lands. Crops that are biologically unprepared are at risk of being eradicated, putting food sources for humans and livestock in danger. Approximately 40% of U.S. land is farmland (pdf); more than 90 million acres of that land is corn.
To keep up with the growing demand for food, scientists like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Professor David Jackson are improving corn. He and his colleagues are finding ways to increase the amount that can be grown on the same acreage of land. In order to stay one step ahead of the changing climate, they are using state-of-the-art genetics to tinker with the corn genome.
By enhancing stem cell growth and differentiation, Jackson and Liu hope to widen an ear of corn and pack in more rows of kernels. But there may be ways to pack in even more kernels by lengthening the ear, which requires a different set of genes.