It has been a summer of withered crops and wildfires, the U.S.’s driest in the last fifty years, during which 55 percent of the U.S. has experienced a drought. And of the land dedicated to corn production, 87 percent has been dry.
Over at Technology Review, Jessica Leber wrote about an engineering solution to the problem of parched corn: seeds bred or genetically enhanced to resist drought, some of which have been tested this summer and will be sold by three big seed companies next year.
No, this isn’t Photoshop or a gemstone-studded trinket—just an ear of corn. Seedsman Greg Schoen of the Seeds Trust got this “Glass Gems” corn from his “corn-teacher,” a part-Cherokee man in his 80s. He planted the seeds, had a gorgeous harvest last fall, and posted the posts on Seeds Trust’s Facebook page in October. Then last week, the photos of the gem-like corn got picked up on the internet and went viral. Good luck trying to get your hands on any seeds now…
But kernel color is a fascinating—dare we say, colorful—topic in the annals of genetics research. For one, why are there so many vibrant colors in a single ear of corn? You don’t usually see flowers of different colors on a single tree. Each kernel is actually a different corn plant (or the seed of one) with a unique mix of genes inherited from its parents. That’s why counting up kernels of different colors in the more familiar purple and yellow corn cobs is a common way of teaching how pigment genes are inherited in Mendelian genetics.