Gason Karl has been growing corn since he was a teenager. Starting in 1996, he began planting the crop on his family’s farm in Olean, New York, and soon grew curious about how tall he could make it grow. So he started experimenting.
“Once I got into the literature, I could see there were mutations” that affected a corn plant’s height, recalls Karl.
In a makeshift greenhouse setup designed to both encourage the plant’s growth and support its stem as it climbed toward the sun, he grew a corn plant that measured 45 feet tall with more than 80 internodes—56 more internodes than unmodified Chiapas corn grown under normal conditions.
“What I think is so amazing about this tall plant is it really highlights how quickly a corn plant can turn the sun into carbon, into an incredibly tall plant,” says Edward Buckler, a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) quantitative geneticist at Cornell University who in 2014 helped create a comprehensive map of maize height genetics. “I’ve never seen anybody grow a 45-foot-tall corn plant; it’s impressive. And he put together a cool set of genes in order to pull it off. My hat is off to him.”
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