Corn Connection

It’s no surprise that Mexico is a mecca for corn breeders. Not only is Mexico the center of the plant’s origin; the region also boasts the greatest natural diversity of maize grown on the planet, including wild relatives of maize. Moreover, the country is home to a wide range of tropical growing climates, from sea level to mid and high altitude.

“I can find climates that are representative of much of the world all within a half day’s drive,” says Kevin Pixley, who directs the genetic resources program at Mexico’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and just completed several semesters as a professor of agronomy at CALS. During that period he retained a half-time appointment at CIMMYT, and he plans to continue cultivating a vibrant corn connection with CALS.

“CIMMYT scientists do not conduct basic research. But basic research, and the cutting-edge knowledge of basic researchers—for example in the areas of genomics, bio-informatics and nutrition—are instrumental to enable the application of recent scientific advances to benefit poor farmers,” says Pixley. “For UW scientists, participating in research projects with CIMMYT is an exciting opportunity to see their research reach farmers beyond Wisconsin and the United States, and to expand the impacts of their work and of UW.”

It was at CIMMYT that Pixley first met fellow corn breeder Bill Tracy, an agronomy professor and now CALS’ interim dean, who brought students to visit the CIMMYT headquarters in Texcoco.

Through Tracy, Pixley and other researchers, CALS’ corn work with Mexico continues to grow. And undergraduates get a taste of it. In August, for example, Tracy and Pixley, along with CALS nutritional science professor Sherry Tanumihardjo and agronomy professor Shawn Kaeppler, plan to once again hold a class for undergrads in partnership with CIMMYT. “Linking Agriculture and Nutrition in Mexico” will include a visit to the National Institute of Health in Mexico City and count toward a newly offered undergraduate certificate in global health.