R. Kelly Dawe, professor of plant biology and genetics at the University of Georgia, will oversee a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow a team of researchers in studies that can lead to improved varieties of corn as well as techniques that could treat diseases such as cancer.
The team will examine how corn and related species transmit genetic information. The research may result in the development of artificial corn chromosomes that can successfully reproduce desirable traits such as drought or disease resistant corn.
The U.S. is the largest producer of corn which is an important crop used for human consumption and as a major component of livestock fodder, medicine and biofuels.
Dawe and his colleagues will study the function and evolution of corn centromeres and, in the process, complete the sequence and assembly of five of the 10 centromeres in corn DNA. A centromere is a segment of DNA that ensures the right number of chromosomes are delivered to the correct location during cell division. Incorrect delivery can lead to defects or diseases.