Big Idea II

Diversity and evolution are crucial for crop improvement. The incredible genetic variation available within maize gives it the potential for many uses and adaptation to many environments.

Genetic diversity is created by mutations and the shuffling and recombination of genetic information that happens during inheritance. Genetic diversity helps maintain the health of a population by allowing it to adapt to different environmental stresses. This diversity is also important to crop improvement; selection relies on there being diversity to choose from.

Maize is extremely genetically diverse, containing 20 times as much diversity (measured by nucleotide diversity) as among all humans. Because of this, maize has become a staple food across the globe. It is grown in every continent except Antarctica. Maize is high-yielding, and has many uses even beyond its many uses in food – everything from plastics to biofuels. New varieties of maize are being developed with improved qualities such as increased levels of Vitamin A.