nananananananana nananananananana SNOT CORRRRRRRN
it's the thread you've all been waiting for
Ok first of all this research was done in an Access & Benefits Sharing partnership with the local community and the gov't of Mexico under the Nagoya Protocol, because Latin America's gotten wise to biopiracy.
like. 40 YEARS AGO a scientist is running around Mexico, sees tall-ass corn growing in poor-ass dirt where no corn should be growing, & it's got big-ass aerial roots. Scientist says "huh. that's weird"
Literally we'd have this conversation. "What are those things for?" "Idk maybe they hold the plant up" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But we knew that was bullshit bc look at those lil nubs. They do nothing to hold the plant up.
There are also wild teosinte plants in the area that have small aerial roots with a lil bit of goop on them, and the teosinte goop has N-fixing bacteria in it too.
1) Looks like maybe teosinte has always done this, at least in some places?
2) In most domesticated maize the goop roots were bred out.
3) But this Sierra Mixe maize was bred for EXTRA GOOP ROOT.
*probably for reasons we'll talk about later
...to an actual confirmation that these goop roots do in fact fix N as scientists have suspected for 40 years.
There's a million places N could be from (dirt, rainwater, bird poops, N-fixing bacteria in the soil, etc). You have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the N is coming from the air & nothin else.
• Checking goop for nitrogenase genes (enzyme that a lot of N-fixing bacteria use)- we couldn't even do this til the 2000's.
• Testing goop to see if it has low O2 inside (nitrogenase needs low O2 to work). It does!
• ACETYLENE REDUCTION ASSAY
Buckle up kids 'cause this test is the worst and we're gonna talk about the time I almost blew up a building doing it.
So one of the best ways to test "does this fix N?" would be give the thing some N2 and see if the thing turns that N2 into biomass.
Flashback to an underground soil science project, in a basement lab, and I get there to feed the samples their acetylene at 11pm because fuck it, that's when science happens.
"OH GOOOODDDD THAT'S AN ACETYLENE LEAK"
Switched off the gas, turned hood to max, fixed hoses, didn't. move. for like. 15 min.
• It's almost more like a mini-tree than the crop corn we're used to. It's 16' feet tall and takes 8-9 months to make ears (crop corn takes ~3-4 months).
• That might be why goop roots got bred out of maize in most other areas. It was better to have a plant that grew & yielded quickly, & only at Sierra Mixe did they really need N-fixing. ...Maybe.
• But probably not gonna be a smash hit in most North American gardens anytime soon.
• So curious to see what its kids & grandkids are gonna look like though.