Modern Maize Breeding

  • Elizabeth A. Lee
  • William F. Tracy

Maize breeders during the hybrid era (1939 to present) have been extremely successful in making continuous genetic improvement in commercial grain yield (Fig. 1). Commercial grain yield in the US increased from about 1,300 kg ha−1 in 1939 to 7,800 kg ha-1 in 2005, about 99 kg ha−1 year−1, with similar gains observed in Canada during the hybrid era (80 kg ha−1 year−1) (Lee and Tollenaar 2007). This 6-fold increase in grain yields over a 60 year period is unprecedented among cereals or oil seeds.

The USDA began collecting data on yield in 1862 and from that time maize yields did not change until the 1930s when they began an upward trend which has showed no signs of abating (Tracy et al. 2004). Prior to 1909, nearly all maize breeding was done by farmers or farmer/seedsmen, who used mass selection as their main breeding method (Hallauer et al. 1988). Mass selection is a method in which the best ears from the best plants would be selected from a population of maize plants. While this technique has been used since the domestication of plants, it is not very effective for traits with low heritability such as yield. Some farmer/ breeders experimented with ear-to-row selection which entails growing and evaluating families derived from individual open-pollinated ears. While this method can be successful in improving traits of low heritability, the lack of knowledge of statistics and experimental design limited the success of this method and yields continued unchanged. Also contributing to static yields were the maize shows that were prevalent during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In these shows, 10 ears were shown by each exhibitor and those groups that were most uniform and conformed to some ideal type in the mind of the judge were chosen as the winners, with no attention paid to yield or other economic traits. It is likely that the emphasis on uniformity in these competitions contributed to inbreeding and further suppressed any yield increases (Hallauer et al. 1988). A third breeding approach attempted during the 19th century was varietal hybridization in which two open-pollinated cultivars would be hybridized and the resulting hybrid would be grown for seed (Beal 1877). Some crosses did reveal reasonable amounts of heterosis (10–15%). But this yield increase was not enough to justify the extra energy and expense of producing the hybrid seed.


Inbred Line Double Haploid Sweet Corn Recurrent Selection Heterotic Group 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abedon BG, Darrah LL, Tracy WF (1999) Developmental changes associated with divergent selection for rind penetrometer resistance in the MoSCSS maize Synthetic. Crop Sci 39:108–114Google Scholar
  2. Barloy D, Beckert M (1993) Improvement of regeneration ability of androgenetic embryos by early anther transfer in maize. Plant Cell Tissue Org Cult 33:45–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beal WJ (1877) Report of the professor of botany and horticulture. Michigan Board of Agric, Lansing, MIGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernardo R (2002) Breeding for quantitative traits in plants. Stemma Press, Woodbury, MNGoogle Scholar
  5. Boyer CD, Shannon JC (2003) Carbohydrates of the kernel. In: Ramstad PE, White P (eds) Corn chemistry and technology, 2nd edn. Am Assoc of Cereal Chemists, Minneapolis, pp 289–312Google Scholar
  6. Bradley JP, Knittle KH, Troyer AF (1988) Statistical methods in seed corn product selection. J Prod Agric 1:34–38Google Scholar
  7. Brown WL, Goodman MM (1977) Races of corn. In: Sprague GF (ed) Corn and corn improvement. Am Soc Agron, Madison, WI, pp 49–88Google Scholar
  8. Bruce AB (1910) The Mendelian theory of heredity and the augmentation of vigor. Sci 32:627–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brunner S, Fengler K, Morgante M, Tingey S, Rafalski A (2005) Evolution of DNA sequence nonhomologies among maize inbreds. Plant Cell 17:343–360PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cardwell VB (1982) Fifty years of Minnesota corn production: Sources of yield increase. Agron J 74: 984–990Google Scholar
  11. Carson ML, Balint-Kurti PJ, Blanco M, Millard M, Duvick S, Holley R, Hudyncia J, Goodman MM (2006) Registration of nine high-yielding tropical by temperate maize germplasm lines adapted for the southern USA. Crop Sci 46:1825–1826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chalyk ST, Chebotar OD (2000) Regular segregation of four recessive marker genes among maternal haploids in maize. Plant Breeding 119:363–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chalyk ST, Bylich VG, Chebotar OD (1994) Transgressive segregation in the progeny of a cross between two inducers of maize maternal haploids. MNL 68:47Google Scholar
  14. Coe EH (1959) A line of maize with high haploid frequency. Am Nat 93:381–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Comstock R E, Robinson H F, Harvey PH (1949) A breeding procedure designed to make maximum use of both general and specific combining ability. J Am Soc Agron 41:360–367Google Scholar
  16. Cress CE (1967) Reciprocal recurrent selection and modifications in simulated populations. Crop Sci 7:561–567Google Scholar
  17. Crosbie TM, Eathington SR, Johnson GR, Edwards M, Reiter R, Stark S, Mohanty RG, Oyervides M, Buehler RE, Walker AK, Delannay R, Pershing JC, Hall MA, Lamkey KR (2006) Plant breeding: past, present, and future. In: Lamkey KR, Lee M (eds) Plant breeding: The Arnel R Hallauer international symposium. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp 3–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Crow JF (1998) 90 years ago: the beginning of hybrid maize. Genet 148:923–928Google Scholar
  19. Davenport CB (1908) Degeneration, albinism and inbreeding. Sci 28:454–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Deimling S, Röeber FK, Geiger HH (1997) Methodik und genetik der in-vivo-haploideninduktion bei mais. Vortr Pflanzenzuchtg 38:203–224Google Scholar
  21. Dudley JW, Lambert RJ (2004) 100 Generations of selection for oil and protein in corn. Plant Breeding Rev 24:80–110Google Scholar
  22. Duvick DN (1984) Genetic contributions to yield gains of US hybrid maize, 1930–1980. In: Fehr WR (ed) Genetic contributions to yield of five major crop plants. CSSA special publications number 7 Crop Sci Soc Amer, Madison, WI, pp 15–47Google Scholar
  23. Duvick DN (1989) Possible genetic causes of increased variability in US maize yield. In: Anderson JR, Hazel PBR (eds) Variability in grain yields: Implications for agricultural research and policy in developing countries. John Hopkins Univ Press, Baltimore, pp 147–156Google Scholar
  24. Duvick DN (1992) Genetic contributions to advances in yield of US maize. Maydica 37:69–79Google Scholar
  25. Duvick DN, Cassman KG (1999) Post–green revolution trends in yield potential of temperate maize in the north-central United States. Crop Sci 39:1622–1630CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Duvick DN, Smith JSC, Cooper M (2004) Long term selection in a commercial hybrid maize program. Plant Breed Rev 24:109–151Google Scholar
  27. East EM (1909) Inbreeding in corn, 1907. In: Connecticut Agric Exp Stn Rep, pp 419–428Google Scholar
  28. El-Lakany MA, Russell WA (1971) Effectiveness of selection in successive generations of maize inbred progenies for improvement of hybrid yield. Crop Sci 11:703–706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Falconer DS (1981) Introduction to quantitative genetics, 2nd edn. Longman, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Flint-Garcia SA, Jampatong C, Darrah LL, McMullen MD (2003) Quantitative trait locus analysis of stalk strength in four maize populations. Crop Sci 43:13–22Google Scholar
  31. Forster BP, Heberle-Bors E, Kasha KJ, Touraev A (2007) The resurgence of haploids in higher plants. Trends in Plant Sci 12:1360–1385Google Scholar
  32. Frey TJ, Coors JG, Shaver RD, Lauer JG, Eilert DT, Flannery PJ (2004) Selection for silage quality in the Wisconsin quality synthetic and related maize populations. Crop Sci 44:1200–1208Google Scholar
  33. Fu H, Dooner HK (2002) Intraspecific violation of genetic colinerity and its implications in maize. PNAS 99:9573–9578PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Gayen P, Madan JK, Kumar R, Sarkar KR (1994) Chromosome doubling in haploids through colchicine. MNL 68:65Google Scholar
  35. Genovesi AD, Collins GB (1982) In vitro production of haploid plants of corn via anther culture. Crop Sci 22:1137–1144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gerdes JT, Tracy WF (1993) Pedigree diversity within the Lancaster surecrop heterotic group of maize. Crop Sci 33:334–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gethi JG, Labate JA, Lamkey KR, Smith ME, Kresovich S (2002) SSR variation in important US maize inbred lines. Crop Sci 42:951–957CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Goodman MM (1985) Exotic maize germplasm: status, prospects, and remedies. Iowa State J of Res 59:497–527Google Scholar
  39. Goodman MM (1990) Genetic and germplasm stocks worth conserving. J of Hered 81:11–16Google Scholar
  40. Goodman MM, Holley RN (1988) US maize germplasm: origin, limitations and alternatives. In: Russell N, Listman GM (eds) Recent advances in the conservation and utilization of genetic resources, Proceedings of the global maize germplasm workshop, CIMMYT, Mexico, pp 130–148Google Scholar
  41. Graham GI, Wolff DW, Stuber CW (1997) Characterization of a yield quantitative trait locus on chromosome five of maize by fine mapping. Crop Sci 37:1601–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hallauer AR, Miranda Fo JB (1988) Maize breeding, 2nd edn. Iowa State Univ Press, Ames, IAGoogle Scholar
  43. Hallauer AR, Russell WA, Lamkey KR (1988) Corn breeding. In: Sprague GF, Dudley JW (eds) Corn and corn improvement 3rd edn. Am Soc of Agron, Madison, WI, pp 463–564Google Scholar
  44. Hallauer AR, Ross AJ, Lee M (2004) Long term divergent selection for ear length in maize. Plant Breeding Rev 24:153–168Google Scholar
  45. Jenkins MT (1935) The effect of inbreeding and of selection with inbred lines of maize upon the hybrids after successive generations of selfing Iowa State Coll J Sci 3:429–450Google Scholar
  46. Jones DF (1918) The effects of inbreeding and crossbreeding on development. In: Conn Agric Exp Stn Bull 207, pp 5–100Google Scholar
  47. Keeble F, Pellew C (1910) The mode of inheritance of stature and of time of flowering in peas (Pisum sativum). J Genet 1:47–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kermicle JL (1969) Androgenesis conditioned by a mutation in maize. Sci 166:1422–1424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kucharik CJ (2006) A multidecadal trend of earlier corn planting in the central USA. Agron J 98:1544–1550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lee EA, Tollenaar M (2007) Physiological basis of sucessful breeeding strategies for maize grain yield. Crop Sci 47(S3):S202–S215Google Scholar
  51. Löffler CM, Wei J, Fast T, Gogerty J, Langton S, Bergman M, Merrill B, Cooper M (2005) Classification of maize environments using crop simulation and geographic information systems. Crop Sci 45:1708–1716CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lu H, Bernardo R (2001) Molecular marker diversity among current and historical maize inbreds. Theor Appl Genet 103:613–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Maize GDB (2007) verified Nov 17, 2007
  54. Marshall SW, Tracy WF (2003) Sweet corn. In: Ramstad PE, White P (eds) Corn chemistry and technology. 2nd edn. Am Assoc Cereal Chemists, Minneapolis, MN, pp 537–569Google Scholar
  55. Mikel MA, Dudley JW (2006) Evolution of North American dent corn from public to proprietary germplasm. Crop Sci 46:1193–1205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Peseitelli SM, Mitchell JC, Jones AM, Pareddy DR, Petolino JF (1989) High frequency androgenesis from isolated microspores of maize. Plant Cell Rep 7:673–676Google Scholar
  57. Riedeman ES, Chandler MA, Tracy WF (2008) Seven cycles of divergent recurrent selection for vegetative phase change and indirect effects on resistance to common rust (Puccinia sorghi) and European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis). Submitted to Crop SciGoogle Scholar
  58. Röber FK, Gordillo GA, Geiger HH (2005) In vivo haploid production in maize — performance of new inducers and significance of double haploid lines in hybrid breeding. Maydica 50:275–283Google Scholar
  59. Song R, Messing J (2003) Gene expression of a gene family in maize based on noncollinear haplotypes. PNAS 100:9055–9066PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sharkar KR, Coe EH (1966) A genetic analysis of the origin of maternal haploids in maize. Genet 54:453–464Google Scholar
  61. Shull GH (1908) The composition of a field of maize. Amer Breeders' Assoc Rep 4:296–301Google Scholar
  62. Shull GH (1909) A pureline method of corn breeding. Amer Breeders' Assoc Rep 5:51–59Google Scholar
  63. Smith JSC, Smith OS (1989) The description and assessment of distances between inbred lines of maize. II. The utility of morphological, biochemical, and genetic descriptors and a scheme for the testing of distinctiveness between inbred lines. Maydica 34:141–150Google Scholar
  64. Smith OS, Smith JSC, Bowen SL Tenborg RA, Wall SJ (1990) Similarities among a group of elite maize inbreds as measured by pedigree, F1 grain yield, grain yield, heterosis, and RFLPs. Theor Appl Genet 80:833–840CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sprague GF (1946) Early testing of inbred lines of corn. J Am Soc Agron 38:108–117Google Scholar
  66. Tollenaar M, Lee EA (2002) Yield, potential yield, yield stability and stress tolerance in maize. Field Crops Res 75:161–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tracy WF (2000) Sweet corn. In: Hallauer AR (ed) Specialty corns, 2nd edn. CRC, Boca Raton, FL, pp 155–199Google Scholar
  68. Tracy WF (2004) Breeding: the backcross method. In: Goodman RM (ed) Encyclopedia of crop science. Marcel Dekker, Inc, New York, pp 237–240Google Scholar
  69. Tracy WF, Chandler MA (2006) The historical and biological basis of the concept of heterotic patterns in corn belt dent maize. In: Lamkey KR, Lee M (eds) Plant breeding: The Arnel R Hallauer international symposium. Blackwell Publishing, Ames, IA, pp 219–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Tracy WF, Chang Y-M (2007) Effects of divergent selection for endosperm appearance in a sugary1 maize population. Maydica 52:71–79Google Scholar
  71. Tracy WF, Goldman IL, Tiefenthaler AE, Schaber MA (2004) Trends in productivity of US crops and long-term selection. Plant Breeding Rev 24:89–108Google Scholar
  72. Troyer AF (1996) Breeding widely adapted, popular maize hybrids. Euphytica 92:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Troyer AF (1999) Background of U.S. hybrid corn. Crop Sci 39:601–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Troyer AF (2000a) Temperate corn: background, behavior, and breeding. In: Hallauer AR (ed) Specialty corns, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 393–466Google Scholar
  75. Troyer AF (2000b) Origins of modern corn hybrids. In: Wilkinson D (ed), Proceedings of the 55th annual corn and sorghum research conference. Am Seed Trade Assn, Washington DC, pp 27–42Google Scholar
  76. Troyer AF (2004) Persistent and popular germplasm in seventy centuries of corn evolution. In: Smith CW, Betran J, Runge ECA (eds), CORN — Origin, history, technology, and production. John Wiley and Sons Inc, New Jersey, pp 133–231Google Scholar
  77. Troyer AF (2008) Development of hybrid corn and the seed corn industry, this volumeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant AgricultureUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations