New gene discovered in maize plants

Oxford researchers make breakthrough which could help lessen global food crisis

It has come to light this week, that two researchers from Oxford have discovered a new gene in Maize plants which could help increase crop yields, lessening the global food crisis. Professor Hugh Dickinson and Dr Liliana Costa, both from the Department of Plant Sciences, came to their conclusions by working for ten years alongside scientists at Warwick University.

The gene, known as MEG1, occurs on the maternal chromosome, and according to Professor Dickinson, controls the “transfer of resources into the seed,” letting us know how the grain fills with nutrients. He added that the discovery of the gene was “important both academically as it supports at least one evolutionary theory… and commercially because it controls grain filling.”

The discovery could have a significant impact on increasing yields of the crop. Dickinson noted that “an ability to improve grain yield and character by ‘reprogramming’ MEG1 activity would have immediate application to food production… an ability to ‘tune’ the performance of a gene such as MEG1 should enable us to maximize the yield extracted from a particular plant, and – very important commercially.”

His research partner Dr Costa, added, “Maize is an important staple food crop, feeding millions of people all over the world. The global population is set to rise to over 9 billion by 2050 (according to UN predictions), and together with the likelihood of increasing climate instability, severe food shortages are foreseen.” She went to note that “The discovery that this single gene can regulate the amount of plant nutrients entering the seed, and thus affect seed traits, such as nutritional content and seed size, is a highly important discovery.”

According to Dr Costa, people have generally been “supportive” of the research carried out. Nonetheless, Professor Dickinson commented that although the scientists did not face any direct opposition, GM plants were used for much of the experimentation, and hence “there was always a danger that… experimental crops plots could have been damaged by ‘environmental activists’. The ‘Frankenstein Foods’ climate has had a serious impact on the government’s commitment to crop improvement – and thus on the public funding available for this sort of work.”

He added “Hopefully the situation is now improving – and a degree of common sense is starting to prevail!” Professor Dickinson noted that if we were to meet the needs of a growing population, “militant action against GM research and technology on the basis of no clear evidence” would have to stop.

Second year student, Ryan Kahn commented, “The discovery will do a huge amount of good by bringing done food prices and solve a growing world hunger crisis. That is only set to get worse as populations increase and incomes increase. If properly tested, there can be no reasonable opposition, and that there is, is based on conservatism and illogical beliefs.”

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