University of Illinois, College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (www.aces.uiuc.edu) plant geneticist Stephen Moose has developed a corn plant that produces more leaves and a larger stalk than traditional corn plants, making it a potentially good fit for livestock silage and biomass applications.

The large corn plants were created by upping the amount of an existing corn gene, known as Glossy 15, in a given corn plant. The Glossy 15 gene is responsible for giving corn seedlings a waxy coating to protects them from sun damage, as well as slowing the maturation of corn shoots. When Moose added more Glossy 15 to corn plant lines, what he found was that not only was shoot development slowed, but so was the development of actual seeds. The energy to make the seed went instead into the stalk and leaves, resulting in a corn plant with more leaves and a larger stalk.

The ears of corn have fewer seeds and a higher sugar content compared to the normal corn plant, which Moose says could make them a good feed for livestock. Likewise, he says the sugar corn would make a good fit for biomass over switchgrass or miscanthus because it is an annual plant that could be rotated out for a different crop if it were to attract pests or develop a disease.

For this sugar corn plant to become commercialized, Moose says it would have to get government approval. However, he is optimistic on this front, as the plant is based on a gene that already exists in corn.