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DuPont announces advances in drought-resistant corn plants
DuPont Pioneer has announced a significant advancement in developing corn plants that withstand drought stress.
Pioneer researchers have identified a transgene that reduces ethylene, a naturally occurring hormone that tends to shut down a plant in times of stress, Pioneer scientist Jeff Habben said Friday.
'The plant needs only one seed to make it to the next year, so it goes from productive mode to survival mode,” said Habben, the lead author of an article on the study in an upcoming edition of Plant Biotechnology Journal.
'We've always believed that corn plants are too conservative in their response to drought and readily terminate kernels or only partially fill the ear when drought hits,” said Habben.
'By modulating the ethylene level, we can make the plant less conservative, keeping it growing and maintaining its yield potential during times of stress,” he said.
The study found that the transgene reduced ethylene emission levels by about 50 per cent.
The two-year study - conducted primarily in the western Corn Belt and in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana - documented yield increases of nine bushels per acre when the drought stress occurred during the plant flowering stage, Habben said.
The transgene seed differs from Pioneer's other drought-resistant varieties, which have been developed through careful trait selection over many decades, according to Habben.
'We know the gene that affects ethylene production. We took that gene, reconfigured it and put it back in,” he said.
The same transgenic approach also enhances nitrogen use efficiency, resulting in another potential management tool for farmers, Habben said.
Farmers could grow a maximum crop with less nitrogen, which has implications not only for their profitability but also for efforts to reduce nutrient pollution in surface waters, he said.
'We're not talking about tomorrow or the next couple of years, but we see that as a path forward,” Habben said.
Habben said it's too soon to tell when the transgene seed will become commercially available.
Drought remains the leading cause of crop yield loss, which in turn causes global food prices to increase. As of February, the California Farm Water Coalition had estimated that the drought in California has cost $5 billion. Estimated crop losses from the widespread 2012 drought reached $40 billion in lost crops and livestock, and U.S. crop prices hit historic highs because of the drought.
Habben said advancements in understanding ethylene biology could enhance performance of Pioneer's drought-resistant AQUAmax® hybrid seeds, which have been developed through a native trait approach.
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