June Newsletter: A Note From Your Corn Breeders

Our Focus on Innovation

Hybrid corn development requires a continuous and sustained effort. It takes 5-7 years to develop a new hybrid using standard breeding schemes; shorter breeding cycles could be accomplished using biotechnology tools, double haploid, etc. Currently there is lots of excitement about the possibilities with gene editing and the possibility of creating new variability within the genome without bringing in new sources of germplasm.

The question for a breeder is how to remain a player and how to create new products to stay competitive. The key to success is to stay focused and to define what is important for the farmer. GEI is focused on yield stability, good level of tolerance to heat and stress, disease tolerance, grain quality and nutritive value of the grain for food and feed. We are also looking for opportunities on other uses for the grain or whole plant for livestock feed.



White Corn in a Global Market

This corn plays a significant role in the food supply of millions of people worldwide. White corn is an important part of the daily calorie intake of the population in Africa and many countries in Latin America. In the U.S. the use of white corn has been increasing 5-7 % every year and a large part of the production goes to the export market, especially to Mexico. White corn has very good milling and good functional qualities that makes it a good product in the corn masa industry and for food preparation. White corn is a very good carrier of flavors from other food ingredients and works as a base product and contributes with the typical corn taste and mouth feel.

Genetic Enterprises International is completing the last stages of testing of a new white hybrid and seed will be available for the 2018 planting season.

Non-GMO vs. GMO Usage

Source: Margy Eckelkamp www.agprofessionals.com

Quantity vs. Quality

The continuing reasoning for using GMO corn hybrids has been the theme “we need to feed the world”.  This reasoning has implied that corn has to be high yielding to achieve this goal.  This mindset has also been used in the past by corn breeders even prior to the advent of GMO hybrids. Breeding for high yield has resulted in a change of the relative composition of the corn kernel in the grain, showing an increase in starch content with a corresponding lowering content of protein and oil.  This shift in the composition of the kernel has contributed to the lowering of the nutritional value of the corn grain. With the lowering of protein content, in particular, the nutritional value of the grain has been diminished especially when used as an ingredient in rations formulated for monogastric animals.

Today’s high yielding corn varieties contain more starch, which is valuable for the food (starch, dextrose and high-fructose corn syrup) and ethanol processing industries, but they also contain lower levels of protein and essential amino acids.  As a major food and feed staple crop, corn is a poor protein source in both quality and quantity.

In Iowa, 58% of corn produced goes to the ethanol processing plants.  We are not feeding the world with our corn.

A High Lysine Corn Story

The protein of normal corn is deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are different types of proteins in the corn endosperm. One type of protein, the one in more abundance in the endosperm is the zein type of protein which is deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. There are other types of proteins in the corn endosperm with a better complement of essential amino acids, but they are in a lesser amount. When all the proteins are analyzed in total, the contribution of the main protein zein outweighs the better proteins and the end result is that normal endosperm corn ends up being deficient in two essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan. The result is that when the grain is consumed as food, only half of the protein in the endosperm is usable while the other half is excreted by the body in the urine.

Now the story…
Corn is the main staple in the food diet in many countries. Corn is an important part of the daily diet in all of Africa, Middle East, and a significant part of Latin America. The poor nutritional value of corn prompted the interest of a group of scientists at the University of Purdue. One idea that was explored was to search through the germplasm banks and to screen all the accessions for a mutant corn that would correct the protein deficiency of normal corn.

After screening of thousands of corn accessions they had a lucky break and the opaque-2 mutant also named high lysine corn was found by Dr E.T. Mertz. The discovery was followed by lots of research conducted by different teams, especially in the U.S.  and Latin America. The research was on verification of the nutritional value for small animals and studies of chemical composition.  They also worked on breeding of the mutant into hybrid corn and development of chemical screening methods that could be used in selection in a breeding scheme.

One team supported by the Rockefeller Foundation in Colombia conducted research on the nutritional value of diets with high lysine corn to correct malnutrition on infants. The results were outstanding. This corn had a nutritional value similar to milk and eggs and it was easily digestible. The research continued and innovative seed companies started their own breeding programs. High lysine hybrids enter the market, in the U.S. for animal feed, especially pigs. Over time high lysine enthusiasm faded out because of a change in the price of soybean protein, used as protein supplement. There was also the constant pressure of quantity versus quality in the mind of farmers and other players in the farm scheme. In the current market there are two forces at play: one is quantity production promoted by commercial farming and quality and sustainability, promoted by the family farming and the interest of people about food, health and what comes to the table.

What is our message?
The discovery of high lysine corn in 1963 redefined the value of corn as a valuable ingredient in the formulation of food and feed.  High lysine corn can be used in the masa industry to make nutritious tortillas for direct consumption or as part of a meal with other high protein ingredients, meats, and vegetables and legumes such as beans. High lysine corn can also be used as a flour product for baking and in food formulations.  High lysine can be used in a feed ration for pigs and poultry lowering the need of soybean oil meal as the source of protein supplement. High lysine is also used as silage for feeding cattle and dairy. For silage, high lysine corn has a dual advantage, one is the high quality protein and the other is the high digestibility of the starch. The product is also very palatable.

Genetic Enterprises International has developed three high lysine hybrids with different maturities for grain or silage.

GEI 9887 lys RM 95 introduced in 2017, GEI 101 lys RM 108, our first high lysine hybrid and GEI 114 lys 114 currently in production.  There has been lots of interest in these products in the silage industry because of the high digestibility of the starch which makes a better use of the grain in the silage and the overall contribution to a higher milk production. The three high lysine hybrids will cover the maturities areas from central Minnesota to southern Iowa and along the maturity belts between RM 95- RM 114.

High lysine hybrids used for grain are part of a grain for livestock production contributing to a better on the farm production and integration and long term sustainability.

Recipe: Corn & Apricot Muffins with Orange Essence

We are always on the lookout for recipes using cornmeal or corn flour.  This one is a keeper – taken from a King Arthur Flour cookbook!  It’s a little more involved but worth the effort.

Corn and apricot muffins with orange essence

Heat oven to 400°
Grease a 12 muffin tin (I ended up needing a tin for 6 more)

2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. grated orange zest
Process in a food processor about 10 seconds, set aside

1 ½ cups dried apricots, chopped fine
½ cup orange juice

Combine in a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap.  Poke holes for steam vents and microwave on high about 1 minute.  Let stand until apricots are softened and plump.

2 cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal  (I used high carotene (GEI 2318) cornmeal from Early Morning Harvest)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
½ tsp. grated orange zest

Mix all together and dust the muffins with the orange sugar.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.