The corn you buy in the store is different from the plant that scientists
believe corn originated from thousands of years ago. The most prevalent
scientific theory is that corn was first
developed from a wild grass called teosinte and looked much like grass and not the golden vegetable so many people love today. Early civilizations created corn hybrids by crosspollinating
plants from different varieties.
A historical look at corn improvement
< 5,000 B.C.
Early farmers domesticated wild
plants by saving the seeds from
the best plants and planting them
as next year's crops. This is the
earliest form of genetic modification.
When Europeans started to settle along the eastern coast of
North America, two races (varieties) of corn dominated in this
region—the Northern Flints and the Southern Dents. Settlers
cross-pollinated these two races and created the Corn Belt Dents,
the ancestor of nearly all the corn hybrids in the United States.
5,000 B.C. - 1500s A.D.
Native Americans improved on
corn farming by selectively sowing
seeds from plants with preferred
characteristics for the next year's
crop. Settlers from Europe begin
1870 - 1890
William James Beal produced the
first experimental corn hybrid in a
Corn yields and quality improve through
crossbreeding and hybridization. Crops are
developed that contain built-in protection
against insect pests, disease causing
organisms and harsh environmental conditions.
Hybrid corn is commercialized by Henry Wallace in the 1920s. Growing hybrid corn eliminated the need to save seeds because the increased yields outweighed the increased costs of annual seed purchases. By 1945 hybrid corn accounted for 78% of U.S. grown corn.
Plant breeders can precisely select single genes that produce desired
traits, such as insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.