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Drought Be Damned: First Results in for 'Tolerant' Corn

Farmers were panicking this summer, dealing with the worst drought to hit the US in five decades, but from this disaster progress is blossoming in the form of a drought-tolerant corn seed and a hearty race to the finish line between three companies who are scrambling to demonstrate that corn at least needn’t fear the dreaded drought.

Without an actual drought, it would have been difficult to genuinely test this new genetically modified corn-seed, and the first results are now in.

The process of making corn seed drought-tolerant involves genetic modifications that keep the plant from losing hydration through respiration. This is done by reducing the size of the plant’s stomata (pores that regulate the flow of water from the plant’s surface). The experimental seeds also carry a gene that helps plants draw water more gradually from the soil. Lack of sufficient water also reduces a plant’s resistance to pets and hinders kernel development, so modifications help reduce this vulnerability.

The top three players in drought-tolerant corn seed are DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. For now, DuPont has a slight advantage. It is the first to announce preliminary results, saying last week that its Aquamax seeds boosted grain yields by more than 8% this year. What does this mean, exactly? DuPont is basing its announcement on average yield results from 2,523 fields with what it calls “water limited” environment and comparing them to other…

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