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Reconstructing the ancestor of corn

Reconstructing the ancestor of corn

Proc. Amer. phil. Soc, 102: 454-63

Cobs of prehistoric (5600 years) corn from Bat Cave no larger than a penny contained the partial remains of a single kernel. Intensive study proved a type of pop corn in which the individual kernels were enclosed in a pod or chaff. These 2 characteristics are then regarded as primitive. In cultivated corn the single kernels are no longer held individually in a pod but are covered en masse by the shucks. The mechanism for seed dispersal has therefore been lost and corn could no longer reproduce itself without man's intervention. In a series of breeding experiments the evolutionary path of corn was retraced by continually combining and recombining primitive characteristics still occurring in surviving varieties. Most of the major steps along the way seem to have stemmed from a single mutation on chromosome 4 which reduced the glumes completely surrounding each kernel of wild corn and lowered the position of the lateral inflorescences. The latter effect resulted in a separation of the sexes and made for a larger, strictly grain-bearing ear which was no longer capable of dispersing its seeds.

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