Bull’s-Eye: The strange case of the dwarf corn

Brassinosteroids are plant hormones that share structural similarities with animal steroids. Animal steroids are related to sex determination. Image: Purdue/B. Schulz

Natural mutations could lead to better crops.

Researchers at Purdue University are trying to change the architecture of some plants. Burkhard Schulz, an assistant professor of horticulture and landscape, experimented with maize (Zea mays). He removed the brassinosteroids, a natural plant hormone that regulates growth, and — just as he expected — the plant became a dwarf. But there was a second effect that Schulz didn’t anticipate. By removing the natural steroids from the plant, it couldn’t develop male organs and, therefore, grew kernels where the tassels should be.

“This would be the perfect mutation for hybrid seed production,” Schulz mentioned at Purdue’s newsroom. The researcher and his team will continue to manipulate plant in order to improve their quality.

Sources: Purdue and National Science Foundation

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