Is corn man-made? How humans made corn

A wild grass called Teosinte was a grass that grew on the earth 10,000 years ago. There was no corn back then, just a grass known more specifically as Zea mats app. parviglumis.

This grass had tiny kernals and was highly branched; it didn’t resemble modern corn in any way. So how did early farmers transform this plant into corn?

The fact is that many of the vegetables growing in our gardens and fields are actually man-made, such as cauliflower and broccoli is absolutely mind-blowing, however, we’re not here to talk about other vegetables… we’re here to talk about corn!

In this article you will learn:

  • Is Corn Man-Made?
  • The History and origins of corn
  • Evolution of Corn
  • A groundbreaking experiment
  • Physical description of corn
  • Different Varieties Of Corn
  • Genetically modified corn
  • Uses and products
Is Corn Man-Made snippet image

Table of Contents

Is Corn Man-Made?

Yes, corn is man-made. It is a human creation, a plant that does not naturally grow in the wild. It can only thrive if nurtured and sustained by humans. Let’s go into a little more detail about how this occurred.

modern day corn

The History and origins of corn

Teosinte or its more scientific name “Zea mays spp. parviglumis” is where our corn journey begins:

A type of Mexican corn

Corn was first cultivated in Mexico’s central region at least 7,000 years ago, according to scholars. Teosinte was the origin. Teosinte looked quite different from today’s corn.

The kernels were tiny and were not packed closely together like those on a husked ear of modern corn. This crop was also known as maize among North and South American Indians, who eventually relied on it for a large portion of their diet.

A process of selecting the right traits

The corn we see in the supermarket today has been through a long and gradual process of domestication, which began with early Native Americans selecting plants with desirable traits to grow. Over time, these plants were cross-bred to create new varieties that were even better suited for human needs.

Early farmers

Early farmers selected the finest individuals from their crop each year to pass on their seeds for the following season. The plant was improved for characteristics that made it more useful to humans with each generation.

Random genetic changes that enhanced the crop would develop over time, and these would be bred in by this technique. Little by little the plant moved closer to the corn we know today. However, don’t be fooled, the journey doesn’t finish there!

Evolution of Corn

At least 12% of the genetic material in corn comes from Zea mays ssp. Mexicana, and it is believed that these genes were introduced through introgressive hybridization.

Genes are transferred into one plant via this technique, which begins with the two lines being crossed to generate offspring with one allele each of each gene from both parents.

By backcrossing with one parent and then repeating the process with the other, we can effectively transfer genes from one plant to the next.

corn in mexico

Noble Prize Winner – George Beadle Experiment

In the 1930s, Nobel Laureate George Beadle carried out an experiment. He crossed cultivated corn with wild grass to generate an F1 hybrid in which each gene was present twice: one from the cultivated corn and the other from modern maize.

Then he bred the F2 hybrid together, counting the plants’ phenotypes. He wanted to know how many of these plants looked like modern corn and ancient grass, and how many were between those two states.

The proportion of plants that have a particular variant from each gene is designated by the percentage (2 out of 4, for example). The other three-quarters of the plants would carry one copy each originally from corn and the wild grass.

So, if one gene was causing the overall phenotypic distinction between modern corn and Teosinte tod, we would expect to find one in four plants with characteristics similar to those found in corn.

There’s a fantastic video that covers this experiment in depth.

noble prize winner george beadle

Physical description of corn

An ear of corn consists of an elongated, cylindrical, cob-like structure that is enclosed in two rows of overlapping leaves (known as husks). At the end of the ear, there is a tuft of silky fibers called the “silk

The silk serves as a site for pollen to enter and fertilize the ovules (female reproductive cells) within the ear. Each grain or kernel of corn develops from a single ovule.

Once pollinated, the ear continues to grow larger as the kernels fill out and mature. Depending on the variety of corn, ears can range in size from about 3 inches (7.6 cm) to more than 1 foot (30 cm).

The farmers know the corn is ready to be harvested because the ear will feel firm, the kernels will be plump, and the silk will have dried out and turned brown.

Once harvested, we humans can enjoy corn in a variety of ways. It can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground up to make cornmeal. It can also be used as livestock feed or processed into a number of different food and industrial products.

corn up close

Different Varieties Of Corn

There are four main types of corn: field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and flint corn:

Field corn is used mostly for animal feed or as biofuel, while sweet corn is what we usually eat as vegetables.

Popcorn is a type of flint corn that has been specifically bred to have a hard outer shell. This hardshell helps the kernel to pop when it is heated.

Flint corn is named for its hard, stony kernels. Flint corn was once a major food source for indigenous people in North and Central America. It is still eaten today, particularly in Mexico where it is known as “maiz duro” or “chedel”.

Field corn is the most common type of corn grown in the United States. In fact, more than 90% of the corn produced in the U.S. is field corn.

human and animal consumption

Genetically modified corn

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been created through the application of gene-splicing techniques. This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be inserted into the DNA of another species, creating combinations that do not occur in nature.

GM corn is corn that has had its genetic makeup altered to make it resistant to herbicides or pests. The first GM food crop was introduced in 1996, and since then the use of GM crops has increased rapidly. In 2012, more than 170 million hectares of GM crops were planted worldwide

More than 90% of the GM crops grown today are engineered to be herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant. The most common GM crops are soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton.

GM corn is controversial because there is evidence that it may cause health problems in humans and animals. Some people also object to GM crops on ethical or environmental grounds.

For example, critics argue that GM crops can lead to the development of “superweeds” and “superbugs,” which are resistant to herbicides and pesticides. They also argue that GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops and that they may have negative impacts on biodiversity.

Supporters of GM crops point out that they can help to increase yields, reduce costs for farmers, and improve food security.

selective breeding

Uses and products

Corn is used for a wide variety of food, industrial, and scientific products:

Food

Corn is used as a food for people and animals. It can be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen. It can also be ground into flour or meal, or processed into a number of different food products such as tortillas, chips, cereals, sweeteners, and ethanol

Industrial

corn is used in a number of industries including paper production, textile manufacturing, adhesives, and biofuels.

Scientific

Corn is used in scientific research on everything from human health to environmental issues.

corn biofuel

Final thoughts

Corn is a versatile crop that has many uses. It is grown all over the world and is an important food source for people and animals. Corn is also used in a number of industries, and for scientific research.

Despite its widespread use, corn is a controversial crop due to its genetic modification. Some people believe that GM crops can have negative impacts on human health, the environment, and biodiversity. Others argue that GM crops can help to increase yields, reduce costs for farmers, and improve food security

Whatever your opinion on GM crops, there is no doubt that corn is a staple in many cultures and an important part of the global food supply.

eating corn
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Oliver Wright

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