Mexico’s self-fertilizing corn could be worth millions. Will village where it grows share in the profits?

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Ancient corn variety that makes its own nitrogen could lead to more sustainable farming. Image Credit: ALAN BENNETT / UC DAVIS

In a 1979 visit to Totontepec, a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, naturalist Thomas Boone Hallberg marveled at the local maize. The plants grew nearly 20 feet high in nutrient-poor soil, even though local farmers did not apply any fertilizer.

The maize had aerial roots that grew a mucous-like gel just before harvest season. It seemed impossible, but Hallberg wondered if the maize was fixing its own nitrogen: extracting it from the air and somehow making it usable for the plant.

[In August 2018], researchers from the University of California, Davis, the University of Wisconsin, and Mars Inc. — the global food and candy conglomerate — published the results of a 10-year study in PLOS Biology, describing how bacteria that thrive in the low-oxygen environment of the maize’s mucus pull nitrogen from the air and feed it to the plant.

Related article:  Single genetic tweak in GMO corn boosts yields 10%—other crops could be improved, too

A Mars subsidiary called BioN2 had signed an agreement with a village to share financial benefits from the maize’s commercialization. That village turned out to be Totontepec, a Mixe indigenous community in the mountains of eastern Oaxaca.

Still, the situation surrounding Totontepec’s maize raises complex questions about how indigenous communities equitably benefit when research scientists and multinational corporations commercialize local crops and plants …. [Wi]ll the community’s Mixe people receive a significant long-term share of profits ….

Read full, original article: Indigenous Maize: Who Owns the Rights to Mexico’s ‘Wonder’ Plant?

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