Scientists Develop New 'Triple Threat' Corn

New hybrid produces grain, sugar and biomass, and all on less nitrogen.

Crop researchers are looking for ways to get more product from every acre and a new corn variety from the University of Illinois offers interesting opportunities. Researchers at the University of Illinois crossed corn plants adapted to the tropics with lines used as parents for popular Midwestern corn hybrids.

The resulting crop is a "sugar corn" that has the potential to yield three crops - grain, sugar inside the stalk and biomass to produce energy. They're calling it a new type of plant and the work by Fred Below, crop scientist, and Stephen Moose, plant geneticist, is getting attention. In addition, the plant will offer the three products while using less nitrogen than conventional corn hybrids.

The researchers know there's a lot of interest in raising alternative crops including switchgrass or miscanthus and other crops for alternative fuel sources, but those crops will need more breeding to be raised by Midwestern corn farmers.

"If you're going to grow miscanthus for biomass, we thought, well, what about corn?" asks Moose. "We found that the amount of nitrogen needed for efficient biomass production is a lot less than growing it as a grain crop. So, you can get more tons per acre of total biomass with less nitrogen fro growing these kinds of lines."

Funding for this project was provided by the University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation.

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