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October 08, 2009

Drought-hardy, gene-modified maize ready for field trials

by Helen Grange

Drought-resistant maize varieties will be making their way from the greenhouse to the field as soon as South African scientists get the regulatory green light.

The researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa have genetically engineered maize to contain four genes from the indigenous, desiccation-resistant Xerophyta viscosa plant - commonly known as the 'resurrection plant.' It has taken the research team five years to identify the genes that give X. viscosa its ability to withstand 95 per cent dehydration, and transfer this genetic material into maize.

The X. viscosa genes act as a signal to the maize plant to go into survival mode when it becomes dehydrated, explains Jennifer Thomson, microbiologist at the University of Cape Town and leader of the five million South African rand (US$670,000) research project funded by The Maize Trust.

The modified plant is expected to withstand environmental conditions that currently result in a greatly reduced harvest - such as late rains

SciDevNet

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