“Where Did My Friends Go?”: How Corn’s Microbe Partners Have Changed Over Time
Many of the foods we eat today look very different than they did in the past. Corn, or maize, didn’t exist ten thousand years ago: it descended from a weedy grass with tiny hard-shelled seeds that we wouldn’t recognize as corn kernels. That wild ancestor of corn, teosinte, grew in mixtures of many other plants instead of in cornfields like today. Big changes between teosinte and corn that we can see aboveground lead us to think that there have been changes belowground, too. Plants form partnerships with bacteria and fungi to get nutrients that they need to grow. Scientists are finding that microbes near the roots of teosinte are different than microbes that live around corn roots. Understanding how corn’s microbe partners have changed can help us make corn varieties that are better for the environment.