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June 14, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Corn on the cob is my favorite food to prepare and eat. When I peel the husks and pick off the silken strands, I think about how sweet and juicy the kernels will be and how long I’ll have to wait for it to boil. But I confess I rarely stop to think about the effort it took to make the corn available to me.
Although many Americans are guilty of cooking and eating with little reflection on their food’s origins, there are people who worry, dream and obsess about it. They’re concerned about making sure the rest of us have enough to eat. Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies. It’s the constant subject of study, discussion, contention and, as this week’s feature demonstrates, scientific experimentation.
MU researchers are working furiously to find a solution to an impending corn crisis. The nation relies upon corn not only for sustenance but also to feed livestock, cars and factories. But although average rainfalls have dramatically decreased over the past several decades due to global warming, corn crops require the same amount of water as ever.
We’ve manipulated corn plants’ genes to the point that they have little variation, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint genes that might allow corn to grow robustly with less water and acreage. Scientist Tim Reinbott’s quest to save this agricultural staple takes him back to ancient Mexico, where a grassy predecessor once grew.
The stakes are high. If rainfall continues to lessen and researchers can’t develop a new breed of corn, farmers won’t be the only ones affected. The ripples will reach almost every American industry.
There’s some food for thought.