Professor Amy Clore and Students Research Corn through NSF Grant

Did you know that 50 percent of the calories consumed by human beings come from a particular tissue in grains called endosperm? That corn is a major staple crop in Central and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa? Or that the starch in corn is a primary source for biodegradable plastics?

Associate Professor of Biology Amy Clore can tell you a lot about corn. She helped write and win a $4.93 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation enabling New College and four other institutions — including the lead institution, the University of Arizona — to conduct fundamental research into the early development of corn, known in the scientific world as maize. This research, which may ultimately teach us how to breed better quality, higher-yielding lines of corn, is being conducted in a new greenhouse built by New College in support of the grant.

“Identifying the genes that are important for the earliest phases of endosperm (think the milky part of corn on the cob) development in corn will likely be relevant for other grain crops as well, such as wheat and oats,” says Clore. “And it may reach beyond nutrition to help scientists learn how to use corn more efficiently for the biodegradable plastic cups from which we drink or the shopping bags we carry.”

Clore is one of five lead researchers on the grant, which was funded as part of the Plant Genome Research Project. The grant provides a wealth of opportunities with its strong emphasis on undergraduate research. New College biology students have been conducting experiments to determine what genes are expressed in the kernel and in which specific tissues. In the process, they have learned a number of cutting-edge cell imaging techniques. Some students have worked alongside Professor Clore at New College, and others have traveled to the University of Arizona to conduct research. Locally, Clore and her students have begun to conduct outreach activities at a local K-8 charter school to teach youngsters about seeds and grains and their importance to healthy nutrition.

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