KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A grant to the University of Tennessee will help continue research at McClung Museum on centuries-old maize seeds, the forerunner of modern corn.
The grant, for $56,000, was awarded to Dr. Gary L. Crites, the museum’s director of ethnobotany. The award marks the third year of funding for the research.
Some of McClung’s oldest seeds, which date back 1,800 years to pre-historic North America, are actually charred remains, Crites said.
“The charring served to preserve them in a form we can study,” Crites said.
Researchers measure the seeds, their parts and position within the seed, to develop a database of the plants’ evolutionary development, Crites said.
DNA from old maize can be used to add a characteristic, such as resistance to a particular disease, to modern corn hybrids, Crites said.
Knowing the history of corn is important because it has so many uses and is grown on all but one of the continents, Crites said.
Crites’ award comes from the Raymond F. and Mark Baker Endowment through the Iowa State University Foundation. McClung is a free public museum on Circle Park Drive at UT-Knoxville.
The museum’s seed collection and database is the largest in the eastern United States, Crites said.
Contact: Dr. Gary Crites (423-974-2775)