The domestication of maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) occurred through the selection of a suite of phenotypic characteristics over the last 7,000 years, ultimately resulting in the classic cob-heavy crop that we today recognize as modern maize, markedly different from its grass-like ancestor, teosinte.
This project involves the extraction of genetic information from archaeological maize samples spanning its domestication history followed by the selection of interesting targets for further biochemical characterization. I intend to look at key molecular switches that resulted in the sequential improvement of modern maize from the ancestral varieties.
Such information is of highest interest for agricultural research as the ancient plants, including those disregarded by early farmers, can be the carriers of interesting molecular and phenotypic features for modern times. Of particular interest will be extinct protein isoforms with biochemical and/or cathartic properties that may be relevant for nutrition, resistance to pathogens or stress, or even involvement in metabolic pathways leading to the production of valuable metabolites of commercial interest. The spatiotemporal mapping of the samples can also potentially reveal important traits, such as the ability to adapt to environmental changes like climate change or water scarcity.
This project is an example of truly multidisciplinary research: by combining the use of the latest sequencing technology with excellent biochemical expertise to explore invaluable collection of archeobiological material, this work will generate results that will have an impact in fields as disparate as archaeology and agricultural sciences. Furthermore, this IEF will allow me to complement my multidisciplinary theoretical training, based on computational approaches, with hands-on learning of the most cutting edge wetlab techniques in world-class facilities guided by experts with excellent scientific records.
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