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Release Date: 11/08/2022

By: Dr. Addie Thompson, MSU

The Genomes2Field GxE Study is an initiative to translate corn genomic information for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and society. This public-private partnership seeks to understand the functions of corn genetic information across different environments. Ultimately this information will be used to enable accurate prediction of physical properties of corn plants (e.g., plant height, ear height, total leaf number, yield) in diverse environments.

After the completion of the first complete corn genome sequences, a lot of information is available on the genetics of corn, but new approaches are needed to combine genetic information with phenotypic (physical plant traits) and environmental data to predict plant performance under variable growing conditions. There are many dimensions to the overarching goal of understanding genotype-by-environment (GxE) interactions, including which genes impact which traits and trait components, how genes in one plant interact among themselves, the relevance of specific genes under different growing conditions, and how these genes influence plant growth during various stages of development.

The 2022 Genomes2Fields hybrid trial was planted on the Michigan State University campus on May 20. This is the largest Genomes2Fields trial to date in Michigan, with 800 plots. To date, stand counts, flowering time, leaf initiation rates, leaf numbers, and heights have been collected throughout the growing season. For high-throughput trait collection, a ground-based automated rover collected LiDAR (laser-based point cloud data) and RGB (color image) data. In addition, drones were used to capture RGB, multispectral, and hyperspectral imagery, as well as above-canopy LiDAR data. Dr. Addie Thompson says this data will be valuable in many ways, “we will be able to make better predictions of new varieties in unobserved environments, understand the interactions between genotype and environment on a physiological level, and, in time, inform precision management tools and practices in a crop modeling framework.”

This highly collaborative project is conducted in partnership with dozens of other sites across the U.S. and provides an ideal test bed for new technologies and approaches. It also serves as a training ground for students (Figure 1) and generates preliminary data for offshoot projects (Figure 2).

Next steps: This is the second year for this research project. Upon completion, data from both years will be analyzed for trends and the results will be published in the CMPM annual research report, which will be released in early 2023.

Figure 1 – Donielle Brottlund, undergraduate student from the University of Missouri, learns to collect greenness data in the Michigan Genomes to Fields plots during the Plant Genomics Research Experience for Undergraduates program in the summer of 2022.

Figure 2 – Brandon Webster, PhD student in the Thompson Lab, collects photosynthesis data in an on-farm trial in Litchfield, MI in July 2022 for an offshoot project studying the genetics of different hybrids’ response to nitrogen.