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The Origins of Maize: DNA Tests Reveal Two Paths

First Posted: Jan 12, 2015 12:52 PM EST
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Maize is one of the staples of the Americas and now, scientists are learning a bit more about its ancient history. Researchers have analyzed the DNA of corn cobs and have found that maize actually followed two paths into the southwest.

In order to learn more about the path of corn's evolution, the researchers analyzed the DNA of corn cobs dating back over 4,000 years. The scientists compared DNA from archaeological samples from the U.S. Southwest to that from traditional maize varities in Mexico, looking for genetic similarities that would reveal geographic origin.

"When considered together, the results suggest that the maize of the U.S. Southwest had a complex origin, first entering the U.S. via a highland route about 4,100 years ago and later via a lowland coastal route about 2,000 years ago," said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, one of the researchers, in a news release.

That's not all the researchers found. The scientists found further clues to how and when maize adapted to a number of novel pressures, ranging from the extreme aridity of the Southwest climate to different dietary preferences of the local people.

"These unique data allowed us to follow the changes occurring in individual genes through time," said Rute Fonseca, the lead author.

The findings reveal a bit more about the origins and evolution of mage in this region. This, in turn, may help with the maize of today, and could improve current crop varieties.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Plants.

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