Twenty-some years ago, Dr. Dave Jackson was among the presenters at an early-1990s edition of the annual Maize Genetics Conference, which is the place to be if you’re interested in cutting-edge corn science. Jackson, still a post-doc at the time, talked about his work on how genes influence stem cell control in corn plants.
After Jackson’s presentation, a Russian corn breeder who’d been in the audience sought Jackson out and told of a strange corn plant he’d stumbled across in a test plot back home. The plant had small ears with disorganized, chaotic rows of kernels, suggesting a stem cell problem of some sort. Might it be relevant to Jackson’s research?
Eventually, a sample of this strange Russian corn found its way to Jackson, who later joined the faculty of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) just outside of New York City. He held onto the Russian corn, but, occupied with other genetics research, left it on the back Bunsen burner for years.
And there it sat until a few years ago, when Jackson and his lab staff were able to turn their attention to it. Soon enough, they had discovered that the Russian corn was missing a previously unknown gene, which they named FEA3. Moreover, the discovery of this new gene led to the discovery of a new signaling pathway that regulates stem-cell production and has a direct bearing on how much corn a corn plant gives you.
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