Young Innovator Viviana López Ramírez studies bacterial maize diseases to help farmers

Viviana López Ramírez uses her passion for biology to tackle agricultural challenges in her adopted country, Argentina. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, she forms part of a multidisciplinary team at the Institute of Agro-biotechnical Research (INIAB) at the National University of Río Cuarto, Argentina working to isolate and identify pathogenic microorganisms in maize in order to identify resistant lines for farmers. Viviana was recently awarded the MAIZE Youth Innovators Award 2019 – Latin America in the category of Researcher for her involvement in this work.

The awards, an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), seek to recognize the contributions of young women and men who are implementing innovations in Latin American maize-based agri-food systems. This is the third instalment of the awards, following Asia in October 2018 and Africa in May 2019. The awards ceremony took place at the 23rd Latin American Maize Reunion in Monteria, Colombia on October 9, 2019.

Viviana López Ramírez, center, receives the MAIZE Youth Innovators Award 2019 – Latin America from CIMMYT Maize scientists Luis Narro (left) and Felix San Vicente (right). Photo: Carlos Alfonso Cortes Arredondo/CIMMYT.

Doubled haploid technology: benefits and prospects

by Natasha Nagarajan

A report by CIMMYT maize scientists highlights the benefits, both current and potential, of doubled haploid (DH) technology in a recent article published in Theoretical and Applied Genetics. 

The word haploid indicates that the cells in a plant has half the number of chromosomes as its parent. Haploids occur very rarely in maize but their frequency can be increased significantly by using haploid inducers, which are specific genotypes of maize with defects in their pollen. Haploids can be separated from diploids using several phenotypic markers at the seed or seedling stage. Haploids are sterile, so they must undergo chromosome doubling in order to begin meiosis and reproduce. Doubled haploids are formed through the spontaneous or artificial duplication of chromosomes in identified haploids. 

In this photo John Okoth Ochieng, CIMMYT field assistant, compares a diploid (left) and haploid maize seed (right). The haploid seed is recognizable from the purple anthocyanin color marker. Photo: Jennifer Johnson.

CIMMYT scientists have laid out several objectives for the future of doubled haploid breeding in this report. Focus areas involve improving the haploid induction rate (HIR), improving the speed and accuracy of haploid identification, increasing the chromosomal doubling rates and improving the seed yield from doubled haploid plants. Various methods to achieve these improvements are outlined in the manuscript. 

The DH process is invaluable in maize breeding because it cuts the time required to breed targeted varieties significantly. Because of this, seeds of improved varieties can be developed and sent out to consumers quickly and efficiently. The global need for maize as food and feed is increasing. CIMMYT works to keep up with this demand and provide food for all who need it. 

Blue maize is all the rage, but are consumers willing to pay?

By Jennifer Johnson

Freshly made blue maize tortillas in a market in Texcoco, Mexico. Photo: Carolyn Cowan.

Step into supermarkets or restaurants in many parts of Mexico City and surrounding towns and you might see products made from blue maize – products which would not have been available just a few years ago. From blue corn chips to maize-based Mexican dishes such as blue tortillas and blue tamales, a beloved staple crop has taken on a new hue. But should breeders, millers, processors or farmer organizations invest in expanding the production of blue maize and blue maize products? Are consumers really interested, and are they willing to pay more?

These are some of the questions asked by researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico. They set up a choice experiment study on blue maize tortillas to test consumer preferences and willingness to pay for this product.

Climate change expected to hit northern Central American countries disproportionately

By Natasha Nagarajan

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that rainfed maize yields in countries in northern Central America are at the highest risk of crop loss as a result of climate change in the region.

Maize crops occupy more than 36% of total cultivated land in Central America and almost 19% in the Andean countries. IFPRI’s study examined potential impacts of climate change through the year 2050. According to the results, Costa Rica is expected to suffer the hardest blow to maize yields, at an almost 17% loss, with Honduras following behind at around 12%.