Berkeley researchers have identified the gene that made corn edible through domestication from its inedible wild ancestor, a plant called teosinte. The results of their research are published in PNAS.
George Chuck, an associate researcher in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology and the study’s senior author, discovered that the gene tassels replace upper ears1 (tru1) played a critical role in domesticating corn into an edible crop plant. This gene changes the inflorescence—the flower head of a plant that includes stems, stalks, and flowers—from a long male branch found in teosinte, into the compact female ear of corn that we eat today. Understanding how this gene works may allow researchers to edit the genes of inedible grasses and transform them into potential food crops. Chuck is currently attempting to edit the genes of an inedible prairie grass called big bluestem.