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Ruairidh Sawers

Maize Genetics and Genomics

Ruairidh Sawers

Maize Genetics and Genomics

Cultivated maize was domesticated ~9000 years ago in Mexico from wild-growing teosinte. Subsequent environment-specific selection by farmers, coupled with geographic and cultural isolation of populations, has resulted in the development of locally adapted landraces. Collectively, Mexican landraces represent a staggering range of genetic and morphological diversity.
While a number of Mexican landraces have contributed significantly to maize breeding pools, much diversity remains untapped: landrace germplasm may possess strategies conferring tolerance to both biotic and abiotic stress not currently available to breeding programs. Critically, much of this variation might be masked by overall poor backgrounds.

We are using two complementary approaches to identify useful genetic variation in landrace maize:

A) Gene driven: We are investigating candidate genes to gain a greater fundamental understanding of maize tolerance to abiotic stress

B) Phenotype driven: We are developing novel mapping populations and screening strategies to identify variation linked to enhanced abiotic stress tolerance

Currently, the major focus of our work is tolerance of maize to phosphate stress.

Lab Group

Nidia Sanchez (Post-doc), Eliécer González (Masters) and Nancy Salazar (Masters) are characterizing the phosphate stress response of maize through functional mapping, and by study of candidate genes using both expression in model plant species, and reverse genetics in maize.

Tania Núñez (Masters; collaboration with the laboratory of Stewart Gillmor, Langebio) is characterizing maize genes involved in the regulation of transcription.

Patrice Dubois, a former Post-doc in the lab, initiated the generation of novel landrace mapping populations. He is now working with Nunhems Seeds in Portland, USA.

Clockwise from left: Ruairidh and Patrice working with landrace maize in winter nursery, Puerto Vallarta. Nidia checks her plants in the greenhouse, and presenting her poster at the Maize Meeting 2011, Illinois, USA. Tania collecting leaf tissue for DNA extraction, New York, USA (Collaborative work with the lab of Dr. Tom Brutnell, BTI/Cornell University). Nancy prepares tissue samples for analysis.

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