Doing maize genetics, according to one geneticist, is “really cool.” It is exactly this kind of enthusiasm that fuels Karen Cone, Professor of Biological Sciences at MU, who specializes in plant genetics. Asked to summarize what researchers in her field actually do, Cone laughs and responds, “Geneticists make mutants…a geneticist learns about the way something works in real life by screwing it up, trying to figure out what’s wrong with the mutant, and then inferring what is normal when the mutant isn’t there.” The mutants that Cone makes involve corn and purple pigmentation.
According to Karen Cone, Professor of Biological Sciences, one can learn a lot about any kind of genetic organism by doing genetics in a model: “Maize is considered to be a model genetic organism because what we learn in this organism is translatable to others.” Because it is a plant, she explains, there is the added advantage of seeds that can go dormant, stored for years until one wants to run additional crosses with them. Maize has other positive attributes as well; for example, it has separate male and female parts, and every kernel is a baby. With just one cross producing 300 to 800 progeny on each ear, Cone finds maize to be an ideal organism for genetic research.