The gene called ZmCIPK15 was found to be missing in a naturally occurring mutant corn line that grows roots at steeper angles that make them go deeper into the soil. Identifying a gene that controls the angle of root growth in corn, influencing the depth to which roots forage, is important because deeper roots have a greater ability to capture nitrogen. Corn with an enhanced ability to take up nitrogen has implications for the world’s environment, economy, and food security.
“Corn is the most important crop in the world. In rich countries like the U.S., the biggest energy, economic and environmental cost of growing corn is nitrogen fertilizer,” said Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences Professor Jonathan Lynch. “And more than half of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to corn is never even taken up. It's just wasted, washed deeper into the soil where it pollutes groundwater, and some of it goes into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. It's a massive problem.” USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture helped support this research. For more information, read this Penn State News article.