Frank N. Foode at Maize Genetics

posted in: Science | 1

Hi, Frank N. Foode™ here. Last week I went on a special trip. I was invited to the 51st annual International Maize Genetics Conference in St. Charles Illinois, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So many scientists, all working on the genetics of… me! Well me and my brothers and sisters in the great Zea mays family.

My flight was delayed, so I missed the first part of the conference. Luckily someone filled me in on what happened. Apparently I’m 1.4 percent Helitron! Good deal.

I managed to get there just in time for the first viewing session for posters. But three geneticists barred my way saying “Is this guy legit?” I thought they didn’t recognize me, but they were pulling my leg, I was expected!

That was a relief! I wouldn’t want to miss these posters. This is my favorite part of scientific meetings. Meeting people, seeing what cool stuff they’re working on. Like Patrice, here, who was comparing the chromosomes of some of my cousins by FISH mapping repeat sequences. That means that wherever there were repetitive segments of DNA of different kinds, she made them glow different colors under the microscope! I wish I could show them to you but this stuff is unpublished. And she was simply glowing to see me.

Later that evening, I listened to a big presentation by Pam Johnson from the National Corn Grower’s Association. My favorite part was when she talked about how the connection between corn geneticists, breeders, farmers, and the consumer was the strongest of any crop grown in the states. It was also neat to know that studying me will help them understand switchgrass and more exotic plants like miscanthus.

Saturday I had a blast in the morning talks. All about how I release Jasmonic Acid when I’m injured, or some mutant relatives of mine that look more like a grass than proper corn. And I learned that even though two corn plants may be hybrids of the same parents, it matters which parent is the mom and which one is the dad!

At the second and final poster session, I got to talk to a few people who run websites about plants. Ann, here, works on the iPlant Collaborative, a center for organizing plant biologists to answer the BIG questions in the field.

And the nice folks at the Maize Genome DataBase told me all I wanted to know about my genome and how to access it from anywhere in the world. They even created a database of my weird looking cousins. Here’s to MaizeGDB! (Always jokers, those database types)

Apparently my fans are everywhere, look at this next guy – he dressed up as a giant… me! He even got the glasses right! And who is this other scientist with you?

Oh of course, it was Karl and Anastasia from Biofortified, promoting their stuff. And lo and behold, James from James and the Giant Corn was here too, so we grabbed him for a group shot.

After dinner, it was time for my keynote address. I was pretty nervous, but I think I managed to move the audience. I felt like they could all see through me, so I tried to imagine them without their husks. I sprinkled in a few, heh, corny jokes to get them started, and then I was off! “Compost! Compost alone moves the wheels of history!” I pounded my fists. I think I had an impact.

After that was over, it was time to party. And corn geneticists know how to do that. They tore open the curtain between the posters and the dining area, cleared out a dance floor, and brought forth the ethanol. These two ladies sure knew how to get down.

I’m not much of a dancer, but I play a good game of Euchre. So while everyone was grooving I was winning the kernels off of some grad students.

The next morning there were a few more talks, and then we all adjourned to go our separate ways. Just when I thought I could slip away un-noticed, a fan called down the hallway asking for a photo op. Sure, I can do a favor for last year’s chairman. Heck, Tom was probably the matchmaker that brought one of my ancestors together!

I had a fun time at Maize Genetics. These are definitely my kind of people. They grow hard, and they yield hard. I hope to see them all again in Italy next year.

Oh, the things I’ve seen!

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Frank N. Foode™ is your friendly neighborhood genetically modified organism. Email him at franknfoode(AT)biofortified[DOT]org.
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