There’s been a lot of advances in using genomics to help improve plant breeding. Most of the advances in corn have focused on field corn, but now researchers are aiming to improve sweet corn.
Mark Settles, University of Florida (UF) horticultural sciences professor, and his team are working to find new traits for sweet corn growers and consumers.
“Our motivation is to get sweet corn breeders the same kinds of genomic-assisted selections that are currently being done in the larger row crop, but helping to apply it to a vegetable crop,” explains Settles. “The other big thing is that when we look at Americans’ consumption of vegetables, it’s on a downward trend, and sweet corn is a healthy part of a diet. We want to make sure people still find it to be a convenient, tasty food to include in their meals.”
The UF study is investigating current corn varieties as well as some heirloom-type varieties. The plan is to take those varieties to consumers and conduct surveys using taste panels to determine the traits that consumers like today.
Settles says one of the goals of this project is to help identify the best sweet corn varieties for breeders to go after, in terms of economic value, that consumers would pay more for.
“The project will go four years. By the end of that, we should have a good sense of what traits consumers really like,” Settles says. “Also, we hope to find what varieties of sweet corn are out there, and what breeding populations are the better ones to use to get those traits into the commercial varieties that are being sold to farmers.”
Taste isn’t the only thing that Settles is searching for. “We’re also looking for varieties that have better insect resistance and blight resistance … We’re trying to take a comprehensive approach toward improving sweet corn on every level,” he says.
To help improve the farmers’ profits, Settles and his team will also be looking at how much pesticide growers need to apply, whether or not fungicides are needed, and how early growers can plant different varieties. In addition to helping growers, researchers want to identify what varieties would be most valuable to consumers.
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