Farmers in a small area of southern Mexico knew that a variety of corn grown in the area was special. But a group of researchers believe the corn could ultimately transform the way the largest crop in America and the world is grown.
The plants in Mexico have bizarre fingerlike roots sticking out of their stalks. The roots secrete a goopy mucus, in which bacteria live.
The bacteria take nitrogen from the air – which plants can't use – and convert it to a different form of nitrogen that they can use. The plants soak up the fixed nitrogen in the gel through the fingerlike roots.
The nitrogen is a critical nutrient for all plants; it's the primary ingredient in chemical fertilizers.