Corn Commentary

Let’s Hear a Cheer for the Guys in the Lab Coats!

corn genome scientistsI want to see Oprah wax poetic about the nobility of science and the implications of the full exposure of the corn genome. Instead of Martha Stewart prattling on about the merits of a vegetarian Thanksgiving, and what is wrong with the family farms producing our food, I am waiting for a provocative look at what this understanding of our largest crop means for mankind.

The announcement today that a team of scientists led by The Genome Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has completed the corn genome is nothing short of monumental. But in this man bites dog world we live in the story will likely miss the evening news and the front page of your local paper.

While the glass half full crowd runs about blathering about how we can’t grow enough corn for all uses we are already doing it and the record crops grown in recent years is just a hint of things to come. (Anybody have any more clichés I can stick in this blog?)

The corn genome is a hodgepodge of some 32,000 genes crammed into just 10 chromosomes. In comparison, humans have 20,000 genes dispersed among 23 chromosomes. That officially makes a corn plant more complex than some people I know, but I digress.

This $29.5 million maize sequencing project utilized the collective expertise of 150 scientists and resulted in a road map scientists will explore for many more years to come. In these waning days of petroleum predominance this is welcome news.

Virtually anything made from oil can be made from corn today. Understanding the intricacies of the genome will allow us to make these emerging corn based products more efficiently and economically. Oh, and there is also that feeding the whole world thing. That’s a good idea too.