Asexual wonders

IN WHAT could be a dream come true for farmers, especially from poor countries, scientists have announced that they are just a, step away from creating a maize plant that can be planted year after year without using a new seed. Five years and a study of 50,000 plants later, scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CYMMYT) at El Batan, Mexico, have hit upon the process of :pomixis', or asexual reproduction, to develop the high-yielding maize. The significance lies in the fact that this maize will be free of any unwanted traits which otherwise creep in the course of sexual reproduction.

A wild grass - Tripsacum was found to resemble the characteristics of the maize plant. This was then cross- bred with the maize plant first and the ensuing descendants were mated for several generations to produce plants which were more identical to maize but also contained the gene for apomixis. Says Yves Saviclan, head of the task team at cymmyT, that apomixis will allow poor farmers worldwide to increase their harvests at no extra cost. Apornictic maize seeds could be planted every year and retain the same yield.