Garden Variety

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Over the last century, agricultural policy has drastically reduced crop diversity. Now scientists are seeking how to identify and regenerate that crop diversity in order to create plants that are more resilient to climate change.

Using DNA collected from corn samples provided by recent immigrant farmers coming to California from Mexico and Central America, researchers at UC Riverside found that the genetic diversity of the corn they had planted in their home gardens far exceeded the corn found at U.S. supermarkets. Southern California turns out to be an ideal location in which to study the combined effect of human and plant migration as immigrants there often seed their gardens with crops imported from their home countries.

The long-term study, which began in 2008, compared the corn in the immigrant’s home gardens to five commercially available varieties, including two horticultural strains, two industrial varieties, and one bulk-bin supermarket variety. The results showed that the corn from the home gardens contained significantly higher levels of genetic diversity than the commercial varieties.

The scientists now intend to continue their research into the nature and diversity of the immigrants corn in order to see if it might also carry valuable characteristics that might be relevant to drought tolerance.