A press release from the Museum of the Earth:
Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain Exhibition Opens!
Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological Research Institution
What is maize? Why is it important? How has it changed over time?
Opening Reception Friday, March 11, 2011 from 6-8pm
Family Day, Saturday, March 12, 2011 from 11am-3pm
ITHACA, NY (March 1) - The Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) announces the opening of a fascinating new exhibition, “Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain!” made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and a collaboration with Cornell University. Explore the science of why maize has been one of the most significant crops to humankind for thousands of years and why it continues to surprise us.
Maize is the largest production crop in the world, and it plays a central role in all of U.S. agriculture and food production. By examining the long history of maize domestication, especially modern genetic advancements, visitors will gain a deeper understanding of evolution and how it can be used to improve everyday life. Learn about the history of maize from the religious ceremonies of the Maya to the biofortification of crops in Africa. From the wild grass, teosinte, the most likely ancestor of maize, to the genetic selection in modern maize production, we see the process of evolution in action—in this case, by human selection, rather than natural selection.
The ancient grain maize was among the many organisms that evolutionary scientist, Charles Darwin, examined. In his travels to South America, Darwin recognized the tremendous variation in maize, and its long history of intentional breeding. In regards to domestication, Darwin stated:
“Although man does not cause variability and cannot even prevent it, he can select, preserve, and accumulate the variations given to him by the hand of nature almost in any way which he chooses; and thus he can certainly produce a great result.” (From, “The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication”, Darwin 1868)
In this exhibition the Museum explores how scientists utilize the process of evolution to encourage the selection of “functional” and useful mutations for increased disease resistance, healthier and larger plants, and maintained diversity. Diversity among a species can provide a plant with a buffer against changes in its environment, providing the flexibility to adapt. In extreme situations, for example drought or disease epidemics, diversity could be essential for the survival of the population.
Learn about the science behind the domestication, evolution, genomics, and plant breeding, the process by which scientists create new plants with improved qualities. Scientists are using conventional and molecular plant breeding to try to combat world health issues, such as, Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), a major health problem for millions of people (especially women and children) in the developing world. VAD, if untreated, results in maternal mortality, reproductive disorders, impaired growth and night blindness which can progress to complete blindness and often death.
Learn about the fascinating advances in the science of plant genetics, the history, the process, and the controversies. Don't miss this learning opportunity to explore how we can see evolution in action by looking at the history and science of “Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain!” and decide for yourself.
Maize Event Schedule:
Opening Reception: Friday, March 11, from 6-8pm. $10 suggested donation.
Family Day: Saturday, March 12, from 11am-3pm, free with regular admission to the Museum.
Special Teacher Tour: Tuesday, March 15, 6-8pm.
For information call the Museum of the Earth at 607-273-6623 or find us online at museumoftheearth.org