Kansas Corn: Just Dirt
Seed to STEM
Grade Level: High School
Throughout history, the human race has been molding and bending our flora and fauna to meet the needs of our existence. This includes anything from cultivation of crops, irrigation of arid lands, all the way to developing new varieties of crops through artificial selection. Even today, the process continues. Meeting the needs of people
has led to many advancements in technology and practices. One such advancement was the development of crop hybrids. In 1926, a Des Moines, Iowa, company released the first corn hybrid under the name “Pioneer Hi- Breds.” These new varieties were developed by cross breeding two plants of inbred lines to create a plant that had increased vigor and, ultimately, increased yield. Today, we are still reaching for the same goal, increased production to meet the demands of our society. Yet, we have a whole new set of tools at our disposal to help
us reach this goal. Combining traditional breeding techniques with genetic engineering practices has allowed companies to produce new varieties of corn that are more resilient in harsh environmental conditions, such as drought, weed and insect infestations. But how do you tell these newly developed varieties from their counter parts? Seeing two plants side by side will often not provide enough evidence to distinguish one variety from another. So, how can we distinguish varieties? Genetics, the basis of the differences between all living things, lies within the delicate strands of DNA that are found in most of all living cells. By comparing the DNA of different plants, we can highlight the difference in DNA that will ultimately lead to differences in traits that can, under the right conditions, lead to increased yields. In this lab, we will analyze DNA already harvested from different plants to determine which plant holds a particular trait using the techniques of restriction enzyme digestion and gel electrophoresis.