Silkless baby corn, seed production genetics

A market has been established through Chinese-American restaurants for the consumption of immature ears of corn harvested at the time the silks just start to emerge above the husk leaves. Multiple-eared hybrids are grown in Taiwan and the immature ears picked by hand, husked, desilked and shipped by air in cold salt brine to the U.S. and Canada. The gourmet specialty departments may sell such corn for about $2.30 for a 14-ounce tin or even at higher prices if pickled and sold in small jars. The prohibitively high labor costs, and the lack of a genetic type suitable to allow mechanization, have excluded the development of this potentially important industry in the United States.

The mechanization problem is partly the critical timing necessary for the harvest. If the silks are pollinated, within hours kernels start to develop and the cob becomes hard and inedible. The answer is to breed a silkless corn that can be mechanically harvested and husked.

The genetic system to do this is based on the use of two different recessive genes for the tassel-seed trait (ts2 and ts1) on chromosomes 1 and 2 respectively as silk restorers for the silkless gene (sk), also on chromosome 2. The double mutants (sk sk, ts2 ts2) and (sk sk, ts1 ts1), with selection for a normal sexual balance, function as normal corn. The double hybrid ts2 Ts2, ts1 Ts1, sk sk between these two double mutants is 100% silkless because each parent carries the normal dominant allele that masks the recessive tassel-seed gene in the other parent.

Walton C. Galinat

Ed. note: Dr. Galinat has provided a copy of the accompanying figure, titled Morphology of Maize, suitable for reproduction.


Please Note: Notes submitted to the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter may be cited only with consent of the authors.

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