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THE EARLY EVOLUTION OF MAIZE

Maize (Zea mays) is today one of the world’s most important food crops. It was first domesticated from a wild grass (teosinte) in south-central Mexico perhaps as early as 8,000 years ago, and has a complex history of early development and dispersal. Maize arrived in the Southwest United States about 4,000 B.P., and reached eastern North American by 2,000 years ago. Analysis of archaeological specimens has provided a general record of change in the morphology of maize up through time (e.g. increase in cob size and the number of rows of kernels). In recent years genetic analysis of ancient cobs and kernels has provided a new window on the early history of evolution of corn, and a much more complete understanding of the early evolution of the crop plant is emerging. A new interdisciplinary collaborative research project has recently been initiated with the Tom Gilbert Genetics Lab at the University of Copenhagen to take a broader look at genetic change in early maize in a number of different regions of the Americas, including the Southwest and Mexico.

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