Iowa State University (ISU) researchers have discovered a way to increase corn's frost resistance by incorporating a tobacco gene that activates corn's natural defense systems against cold temperatures.

The tobacco gene researchers inserted carries protein that activates corn's defense systems to stabilize and protect cells in times of stress from heat, cold and water loss, says Kan Wang, director of the Center for Plant Transformation at ISU. The research shows an improvement of 2° C in the freezing tolerance of the transgenic corn compared to traditional corn lines.

This discovery could help corn survive late-spring and early-fall frosts and allow production of corn in areas where climates are too cold. Wang says the tobacco gene appears to have no impact on corn plant growth under normal growth conditions.