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January 2, 2020


One way to boost the productivity of a plant is to redirect some of its resources away from maintaining an overprepared immune system and into enhanced seed production. So say NSF-funded scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who have found a gene that could help them tweak that balance.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions


I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

To a plant, it's a jungle out there. To flourish in the wild, the name of the game is watch your back. Bacteria... fungi... viruses... lurk at every turn. (battle sounds) it's vital to have an immune system ready to counter any attack.

But if you're a plant growing in a farmer's carefully tended field, (pastoral, birds) threats are fewer. In this controlled environment, plants could probably ease up on their anti-pathogen protections, and channel that energy to grow taller, produce more seeds, be more productive.

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have found a gene in corn that could help them tweak that balance (ratchet sound): Gß (gee-BAY-ta) just so happens to be involved in both the plant's growth and defense. It helps control corn's immune system... and affects the size of reservoirs of stem cells from which new growth originates.

More than that, the team found that Gß likely acts as sort of a mediator between the cellular pathways that control these functions.

The team is working with Gß to tone down corn's hardcore immune system and put more energy into boosting its productivity.

The work continues, and could lead to higher crop yields, and some beautiful ears with more kernels.

But probably not before my next corn roast.

Discover more research with funding from the government's National Science Foundation at

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