Team IDs key to sorghum’s heat resilience, aims to boost corn’s tolerance

May 20, 2021

Lincoln, Neb. —Although sorghum is known to be much more heat- and drought-tolerant than its close relative corn, the underlying reason for this difference is not well-established. Solving this mystery may be key to developing corn that is more resilient to high temperatures and the often dry summer conditions in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest.

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln team led by former postdoctoral fellow Lucas Busta, working in the lab of Ed Cahoon, director of the Center for Plant Science Innovation, has taken a big step toward identifying the biochemical and genetic basis for the large differences in the ability of corn and sorghum to tolerate environmental extremes. The research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These differences, which make sorghum a grain and forage crop of choice for semi-arid climates, have been attributed in part to the large amounts of wax that coat sorghum’s leaves and stems and serve as a barrier to water loss, especially at high temperatures.

The research team discovered that sorghum not only has more wax on its surfaces than corn, but also a highly enriched, steroid-like wax on mature plants. The abundance of this particular kind of wax was missed in previous sorghum analyses.

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News Release Contact is Edgar Cahoon | UNL Biochemistry