ancient corn

Yuri Kuchinsky yuku at
Thu Jul 10 08:16:34 EST 1997

Dear Jean,

Thanks for your comments.

J.R. Pelmont (Jean.Pelmont at wrote:
: New South <hgibbons at> wrote (écrivait) :
: > I don't understand how a literary reference to corn can be convincing 
: > evidence.  The same character may have been used for another grain 
: > before the introduction of maize.  The only documentary evidence that
: > could be clear would be an unmistakable description of the plant 
: > and its seed, or a detailed drawing that could be reliably dated
: > to pre-columbian times.

: This is my feeling too. I did not follow the integrity of this thread
: about the origin of corn, just remembering that Y. Kuchinsky argued that
: the cultivated plant appeared for the first time in the Old World.
: Right?

No, not at all. You misunderstood me. I believe maize was native in
America, and was brought to the Old World perhaps 3,000-2,000 years ago by
ancient mariners. Certainly before Columbus, as evidence indicates. For
non-specialists, please look at the photos of ears of maize in India on my
webpage. For specialists, the genetic/botanical evidence should be most

: I think we have to be cautious about old reports and descriptions, since
: they could have referred to plants looking like maize but of different
: origin. Il corn has been grown in Asia or elsewhere before the discovery
: of America, the various specialists in the world should have been able
: to trace them by carefully screening the cereal species, using for
: instance the techniques of molecular Biology (DNA sequence, restriction
: maps).

Well, from what I understand, a complete genetic inventory of maize in the
Old World hasn't been done yet. I don't even think anyone is doing this
yet. But this should be done, if we want a better understanding of early

: And because plants are often polymorphic the most competent
: botanists have sometimes difficulties to define species, varieties, and
: so on. This is not my personal opinion, just what I heard all around (I
: am only a biochemist).
: There is a short paper in Nature by R. Martienssen at Cold Spring Harbor
: (Nature 386, 443-445, April 1997). An other paper in the same issue by
: J. Doehley et al (Nature 386,485-488) deals with the same problem. These
: workers have used a genetic technique (analysis of quantitative trait
: loci or QTL), and have cloned a gene (tb1) of a wild species named
: teosinte. It has been known for many years that maize can be crossed
: with teosinte. We learn that the cultivated maize is descended probably
: from this closest wild american relative, teosinte.

I agree. Also, someone recently very helpfully posted some very recent
important research (at Duke University?) about the early maize, teosinte,
and also another herb that was apparently cross-bred with teosinte many
thousands of years ago to produce maize. I forgot the details now, but
this article could be found in the archives and reposted. Apparently we're
moving ever closer now to uncovering the full details of the earliest
history of maize!

: The main change
: deals with the morphology of reproductive organs, with some control by
: gene tb1, and selection of the mutated species seems to be a great
: accomplishment of the Aztec. We learn also that plant architecture
: depends on a few genes with major effects. This has been verified with
: the small herb mustard-like named Arabidopsis thaliana. The complete
: genome of this species is now being sequenced my a consortium of
: laboratories all over the world. A rough task. The genome is fairly
: small, but still is 100,000 kb long or so !
: We have some people here doing research on Arabidopsis and maize as well
: The latter problem is under contract with the french firm Rhone-Poulenc,
: and the molecular biology of fertility factors is being examined. I had
: a discussion with one person in this group. The evidence published in
: Nature is considered as quite sound, and it is believed that corn was
: really born in Central America.

I agree.

: I heard there is now a scientific show
: in the Paris "Museum d'Histoire Naturelle where the complete history of
: maize from origin and modern crops is explained in detail. I feel as to
: visit this museum soon for my personal education ;-)

Perhaps you can see it and report to us if they acknowledge the theories
about precolumbian transpacific diffusion of maize? If they don't this
will be a major oversight... Because we're now an inch close to proving
without a doubt that maize was precolumbian in India and China! Have you
seen the work of Prof. Carl Johannessen?

: As for a variety of plant species been spread from Asia, America and
: elsewhere in the last centuries, these exchanges must have been
: tremendous. I remember visiting the volcanic island of Madera
: (Portugal), where you can see in the mountain some flowers that are
: endemic of Andes.

This is very interesting.

: They were probably brought by ancient navigators,
: maybe by chance.

It would be interesting to investigate this...

: I have seen also that Australia was also invaded, not
: only by rabbits, but by several plants multiplying in the bush. I was
: explained this, but I do not remember the details.

Well, do you know about the ancient landbridge between Australia and South
America? (Something like 30 million years ago?) Many of S. American plants
are also native in Australia! Including tobacco. So tobacco also was in
the Old World before Columbus. I have a ref on this if you're interested.

Best wishes,


Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient 
 in Toronto 	 | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
 ----- my webpage is for now at: -----

More information about the Bioforum mailing list