James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

June 11, 2015

Answers to Name! That! Millet!

Filed under: Uncategorized — James @ 1:41 pm

Hidden below the “read more” tag.

Millet A is proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), the most water use efficient grain crop known to man. If zoom all the way in on the uploaded image you can see the distinctive “hairy” look of the stem coming from ridiculously oversized macrohairs.

Millet B is actually maize (Zea mays). Maize seeds tend to be larger than any of the other millets which gives the seedlings a head start. Even though this plant was the same age as most of the others, it was already too big to fit in the light box properly (hence the low picture quality).

Millet C is foxtail millet (Setaria italica). Grown throughout northern China, it’s used to make a porridge that often seems to substitute for cereal in various chinese breakfasts I’ve attended over the years. For extra bonus points, this species has not one, but two reference genome assemblies. The one I tend to use is from a variety called Yugu1. This variety was developed in the 1980s and was such a radical advance in terms of yield that if features prominently in the pedigrees of the new varieties released ever since (essentially Yugu1 is to foxtail millet breeding as B73 is to corn breeding).

Millet D is pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum/Cenchrus americanus). It’s widely grown in both India and Africa (and we grow a bit in the USA as well). In India they actually have a major hybrid breeding program using cytoplasmic male sterility. Pennisetum glaucum is the traditional scientific name, but now that we have lots of genetic and genomic data to determine how grass species are related, various species are having to be moved around and renamed. It’ll be interesting to see if the new scientifically correct name (Cenchrus americanus) sticks or not. Pearl millet is the crop you grow in places too hot, too dry, or too nutrient poor for maize (corn) to survive. To reuse an old and played out metaphor, pearl millet in the honey badger of grain crops.

Millet E is japanese millet (Echinochloa esculenta), also called barnyard millet or billion dollar millet. Rather than write my own blurb here, let me quote from Goron & Raizada:

It is tolerant to cold and was historically grown in areas where the climate or land did not suit rice production, particularly in the north of Japan. In Japan, folklore states that barnyard millet originated from the dead body of a god. Along with proso millet, it makes up part of the “Gokoku,” a general term for five staple grains. Japanese barnyard millet has been found in the coffins of 800-year-old mummies from the Iwate prefecture, and documents from the 1700s list different cultivars organized by maturity time. Its historical importance might be attributed to the relief it provided in times of rice crop failure.


1 Comment »

  1. I guessed incorrectly all around.

    Thanks for this! Loved the stories with each. My grandfather was a grass breeder, worked with pearl millet, and I’m sad to say that I have never grown any. So this was particularly cool for me…

    BTW, is ‘honey badger’ really played out as a metaphor? It’s not =that= old.

    Comment by John Fowler — June 11, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

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