July 13, 2014

New position at Iowa State will focus on corn genome

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board has announced a $2-million investment in corn genetics research at Iowa State University. One-point-five million of that will be used to establish an endowed faculty position in genetics in ISU’s Department of Agronomy.

The other $500,000 will fund further research into the what Iowa Corn Promotion Board president Bob Bowman calls “the functional genomics of corn.” “This is the very important next step…so we can figure out just what that corn genome means to us and what we can accomplish with it,” Bowman says.

The inaugural Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics will be held by Patrick Schnable, professor of agronomy and director of ISU’s Center for Plant Genomics.  He played a key role in the national effort to sequence the corn genome, the results of which were published in 2009.

Schnable says one of the areas of focus going forward will be corn hybrids that are better adapted to wide fluctuations in weather. “The challenge is that our crops have been designed for relatively stable weather patterns and as we’ve seen, weather patterns are becoming more variable,” Schnable says. “We need to build resiliency into our crops if we’re going to continue to benefit from a productive and stable agricultural system and the sorts of research that we’re envisioning here will contribute to that.”

Schnable says they’ll be looking at many different traits, including cold tolerance, drought tolerance, water tolerance, and nitrogen use efficiency.