Maize, Mexico's staple food as well as a symbol, has the potential to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects without any need for genetically modified seeds, according to agricultural scientists.
Mexico has at least 59 landraces (traditional, locally-adapted strains that are rich in biodiversity) and 209 varieties of corn. White maize is the most commonly eaten variety, while yellow maize is used for animal feed or processed into cornflakes, starch and other products.
Maize is thought to have developed from an ancestor grain in four possible geographical locations in Mexico, according to the 2009 study "Origen y diversificación del maíz, una revisión analítica" (Origin and Diversification of Maize: An Analytical Review) by researchers at the state Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), the Autonomous University of Mexico City and the Postgraduate College.
"Climate change will have different impacts, because corn varieties are adapted to very specific conditions," Carolina Ureta, a researcher at the UNAM Biology Institute, told IPS. "While some varieties will benefit, others will be harmed."
"We can focus our attention on varieties that grow in adverse conditions, and see what genetic improvement is possible," she said.
Ureta has been working since 2009 on a research project titled "Effects of Climate Change on the Distribution of Mexican Maize and its Wild Relatives", due to be completed in 2012 as the final stage of her doctorate in biological sciences. Her research is to be published in a forthcoming issue of the U.S. journal Global Change Biology.