Corn with a gene from a common soil microorganism can weather a drought while yielding roughly 10% more than corn that lacks the gene, say researchers from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC).

“Drought is the farmer's most damaging problem, but it hasn't gotten the investment it deserves,” says David Lightfoot, a biotechnologist who developed the transgenic corn and headed the 10-member research team that tested its properties.

“True drought resistance, where corn goes on growing when there's no water, doesn't exist,” he says. “But this corn suffers only slightly and recovers quickly.”

The yield advantage doesn't occur in wet years, however. With sufficient water, the transgenic corn and its unaltered counterparts perform pretty much the same.

Corn containing the SIUC gene could go on the market in the next 3-5 years.