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Lab finds a new gene essential for making ears of corn

A team of scientists has identified a gene essential to forming the ears in corn. The new research extends the growing biological understanding of how different parts of corn plants develop, which is important information for a crop that is a mainstay of the global food supply. The researchers found that a gene called barren stalk2, or ba2, affects development of axillary meristems, which are special cells that give rise to the ears. To find the genes needed to produce organs, such as ears or anything else, geneticists look for plants that cannot make the organ properly. Plants with mutations in the ba2 gene never make ears, hence the name "barren stalk." Previous screens like this identified a mutation in a different gene, called barren stalk1 or ba1, that is also essential for making an ear. In the current experiment, the researchers performed genetic crosses, known as a complementation test, and concluded that the phenotype they observed in their plant was caused by a mutation in a totally different gene from ba1. The findings demonstrate that ba2 is in the same molecular signaling pathway as ba1 and that the two genes work in concert to regulate the development of ears.

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