Development of Corn Lines with Improved Starch is Checkoff-funded

December 31st, 2002

AMES, Iowa — Three researchers at Iowa State University have the same goal — to improve profits for Iowa corn growers. To help make that goal a reality, they're developing new corn lines that should be better suited for industrial and food uses than current lines.
Jay-lin Jane and Pam White are professors and researchers in the ISU food science and human nutrition department. Linda Pollak is housed in Iowa State's agronomy department and works for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Each plays a key role in a collaborative project funded by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB).
"We're working on three fronts," says White. "We're developing new corn lines that may offer value-added starch characteristics. We're studying the functional and structural properties of these starches. And we're looking for new commercial applications for these enhanced starches."
Jane, White and Pollak each have had individual research projects funded by ICPB for many years. But in 1999, they pulled their work together into a single project.
Pollak has been leading the Germplasm Enhancement of Maize (GEM) project and emdash; a cooperative effort of ARS, land-grant universities and private industry. The GEM project studies corn from other parts of the world that may provide pest-resistance genes, could lead to increased yields and may contain improved quality traits.
Several promising GEM lines have been identified and further developed for this starch project. "We have about five lines that are advanced and in their last stages of agronomic evaluation, and more lines are on the way," Pollak says. "Each has unusual starch quality characteristics."
While Pollak leads the breeding aspect of the project, Jane investigates what starch structures deliver desired properties and White evaluates starch traits.
"We're gaining new understanding about how different starch structures impact the properties needed for industrial and food applications," says Jane. "The more we learn about how starch granules develop, the more we can control starch development through either breeding or genetic modification to produce value-added corn lines."
Jane, through collaborative efforts, is working on new starch lines that may improve livestock's feed efficiency through better digestibility. She also studies characteristics of starch that lead to improved yields of dextrose, corn syrup and alcohol at reduced costs.
White says the idea is to develop starches that can be processed with little or no modification. "It's more desirable to have the corn plant do this, rather than using chemicals to modify the starch before processing," she says.
Jane agrees. "The largest current applications for corn starch are in the paper, textile and food industries," she says. "But most applications require chemical modification of the starch to increase its stability and slow down its aging. Chemical modification is costly and there is always the risk of environmental contamination."
White says another reason to eliminate chemical modification is consumer demand. "Many consumers are looking for all-natural products. Food products processed without chemicals may have an edge," she says.
The project also includes a search for corn starches with low cooking temperatures. "This would save energy, while providing better nutrient and flavor retention," White says.
All three scientists say pulling their research efforts into one collaborative project has increased efficiency. So not only is this project geared to improving profits for corn producers by giving them more value-added opportunities, it also means a higher return on their corn checkoff investments.

Contacts: 

Jay-lin Jane, ISU Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9892
Pam White, ISU Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9688
Linda Pollak, USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, ISU Agronomy, (515) 294-7831
Susan Thompson, Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-0705

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