Putting DNA to Work
  IMPROVING CROPS

How Does Reading Genes Improve Crops?

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With the dawn of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, humans began modifying wild plants. Planting seeds from the most desirable plants is a way of choosing certain genetic traits over others. Although the transformations occurred over many centuries, virtually every cultivated species has been genetically modified from its wild form through classical plant-breeding techniques. The produce sold in markets today is very different from its wild progenitors.

Crop yields have risen dramatically since the advent of scientific crop selection about a century ago. Cross-breeding techniques improved the precision with which specific traits could be selected. Today, DNA sequencing provides new tools for understanding crop traits and for selecting desirable traits with even greater efficiency. In other words, the latest genetic engineering techniques often provide a better way to carry out many of the crop selections of the past.

In the following sections we explore the development of crops, using corn as an example.

From Teosinte to Corn
Increasing Productivity in Corn
Reading Traits in the Corn Genome
Growing GMOs

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Maize Mutants
The genes that govern many specific traits have been identified in the maize (corn) genome.

In this activity you can explore some of the genes located on corn's ten chromosomes and see the effects of those genes.

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From Teosinte to Corn [ next ]