Using powerful genome sequencing tools created for human genetics, researchers can now exploit the genetic diversity of crops to improve productivity, sustainability and nutrition, a Cornell researcher reported at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C.

Researchers now have the tools to dissect maize genes, for example, and predict the likelihood of any trait with up to 90 percent accuracy, said Edward Buckler, a U.S. Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Research Service research geneticist in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity, in his presentation, "Dissecting the Genetics of Complex Agronomic Traits for Crop Improvement."

"There are some simple traits, like improving vitamin A content in maize, that work with five or 10 genes, but we can also understand complex traits, like flowering time, that work with over 50 genes, and we can still make very accurate predictions," said Buckler, a Cornell adjunct associate professor of plant breeding and genetics.