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Tracking down the jumping genes of maize

The “jumping genes” of maize have finally been mapped by an international team of researchers. Transposable elements, or transposons, are DNA sequences that can move locations within a genome (“jumping genes”). Discovered in corn by Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Barbara McClintock in the 1940s, they were long considered by many scientists to have little role in genetics. We know now that transposable elements are found in most organisms, making up more than 80 percent of the maize genome and nearly 50 percent of the human genome. One of the researchers said now that the maize genome is fully sequenced and transposon locations have been determined, a new realm of research is opening beyond the role of individual genes in maize--determining the role of individual transposons. The discovery could ultimately benefit the breeding and production of maize, one of the world’s most important crops.

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