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The corn that's making a world of difference.

When my coworkers and I at Purdue University announced the discovery of a new breed of corn that was high in lysine, we knew it had the potential to prevent malnutrition and improve livestock production around the world.

The Post has already reported on the effect of high-lysine corn in the United States. Crow's Hybrid Corn Company of Illinois spent more than a decade developing a high-yielding, disease-resistant line of hybrids acceptable to the American farmer. U.S. farmers now plant about 500,000 acres of high-lysine corn annually, all of which stays on the farm for animal feed.

But what's happening in other countries is perhaps more exciting. If the success of high-lysine corn is measured by the amount of papers it's generated around the world, it's made quite an impact. The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau in England has published 1,450 abstracts of papers about high-lysine corn since 1964. These abstracts summarize work done in 57 countries and averages out to six papers a month every month for 20 years! To find out what all this research work means in human terms, I asked Dr. Ronald P. Cantrell, former professor of agronomy at Purdue University and now director of the Maize (corn) Program at CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center located at El Batan, Mexico.

In 1970 CIMMYT was given the task of developing tropically adapted high-lysine corn that would be high yielding and completely acceptable to the poor farmers in developing countries. With the exception of Andean farmers, who prefer a floury corn similar to Crow's high-lysine hybrids, the farmers in tropical and subtropical areas raise only a hard, flinty type of corn. They would not accept the floury type, so it became necessary for CIMMYT to embark on a long and tedious breeding program to produce a flinty, hard, high-lysine corn. This process took more than ten years, but they have now produced just exactly what the farmers were asking for.

Dr. Cantrell told me a team of researchers had just returned from a global visit to explore the possibilities for better use of high-lysine corn. The team included a plant breeder, a cereal chemist and an animal nutritionist. The group was headed by Dr. Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on short-stemmed wheat. The team visited Central and South America and Asia, including mainland China. The researchers also plan to visit Africa. Here's what they found:

Guatemala is the most advanced country in the use of high-lysine corn. The Guatemalan government has released to farmers a white, hard, flinty high-lysine corn called NUTRICTA. This year 100 tons of NUTRICTA seed will be available for planting. The government plans to supply this corn to orphanages, schools and other institutions.

The short stature of Guatemala's highland natives may be caused by chronic protein deficiency. If so, the widespread adoption of high-lysine corn should correct this deficiency.

Elsewhere in the Americas, the team found that Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic are now multiplying high-lysine seed and should become big producers within two or three years. The testing of high-lysine varieties is also proceeding on schedule in Peru, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Paraguay.

In India, nutritionists have shown that high-lysine corn supplies good quality protein to young children at one-fifth the cost of milk, which is always in short supply in that country. High-lysine corn adapted to tropical and subtropical climates and soils have also been sent to Banladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand for testing.

The lysine-corn situation in southern Africa is complicated. There, corn is an important part of the diet of tribal groups. But Dr. Hans Gevers, professor at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, told me natives have refused to use the high-lysine hybrid (HL-1) developed in South Africa because it is not white enough and the meal is too soft. HL-1 has twice the protein value of the degermed corn meal the natives are accustomed to eating and could reduce the high incidence of kwashiorkor and pellagra among tribal groups. Dr. Gevers, however, hopes the natives will eventually accept the corn. He is more encouraged with his yellow, high-lysine hybrid, HL-2, that was designed for pigs and poultry. The South African Maize Control Board has set its selling price at 12 percent higher per bushel than regular corn to induce more farmers to plant it.

Communist countries are also benefiting from high-lysine corn. The CIMMYT team found great interest in the corn in China both as a food for humans and for use in pig production. China is the largest swine-producing nation in the world.

To find out what is happening in the U.S.S.R., I wrote to the head of the state corn-breeding department, Dr. K. I. Zima, at Krasnodar, in the southwestern Soviet Union. He told me that Russian plant breeders began working on high-lysine corn in 1967 shortly after our Purdue group sent samples around the world. Six research centers in the U.S.S.R. are engaged in high-lysine corn breeding and six commercial high-lysine corn hybrids (floury type) have been released to farmers. The Soviet Union produces about 1,000 tons of high-lysine corn annually. This production is about one-fifth that produced annually for animal feed in the American Midwest. High-lysine programs are also proceeding in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Hungary, but on a smaller scale.
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Author:Mertz, Edwin
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1984
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