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Press Release 05-088
Scientists Trace Corn Ancestry from Ancient Grass to Modern Crop

Indigenous farmers bred the plant for hardiness and better food quality

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teosinte and corn image

Cultivated corn was domesticated from teosinte more than 6,000 years ago. During the process, corn lost the ability to survive in the wild, but gained valuable agricultural traits. The suppression of branching from the stalk resulted in a lower number of ears per plant but allows each ear to grow larger. The hard case around the kernel disappeared over time. Today, we see just a few ears of corn growing on one unbranched stalk and enjoy larger ears covered with many, many rows of soft corn kernels.

Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation


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Ancient farmers drastically changed teosinte's yield, grain quality and hardiness.

Native Americans living in what is now Mexico began domesticating teosinte, or "grain of the gods," more than 6,000 years ago. By selectively breeding each generation, ancient farmers drastically changed teosinte's appearance, yield, grain quality and hardiness, culminating in today's corn.

Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-46945


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