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Determining maize’s nutritional and industrial quality

In addition to being part of the basic diet for millions of people, maize plays a role in many other food products and has a diverse array of non-consumption uses, such as for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels. To identify what grain is suitable for what purpose requires a series of lab tests and analyses. A similar process is used to identify maize with certain nutritional benefits, such as high levels of pro-vitamin A.

As part of a collaborative research agreement between the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and CIMMYT, a workshop titled “Nutritional and industrial quality of maize” was held at El Batán during 19-24 April. More than 20 experts in breeding, biochemistry, and food technology and physiology from nine Mexican public and private institutions attended the workshop.

During the workshop participants practiced methodologies used in CIMMYT’s lab to analyze the physical and chemical properties (such as protein, starch, carotenes, lysine, tryptophan, grain hardness, and color) that determine the industrial and nutritional quality of maize grain. The group also spent two day working in labs operated by the Mexican National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIFAP) in the State of Mexico. Under the guidance of INIFAP researcher Gricelda Vásquez, course participants set quality parameters for nixtamal—maize cooked with lime—and tortilla during interactive hands-on sessions.

The workshop introduced participants to new methodologies that will help them meet the demand for germplasm characterization, and it will help ensure the conservation and effective use of germplasm. Because learning is more effective through practice and applicability—which is how this course was structured—participants said that they would enjoy attending more workshops like this one. “All the methodologies we practiced this week will be helpful in strengthening our laboratory and will help ensure the characterization of native materials from collections of our germplasm bank,” said Ángel Jiménez Cordero from the University of Guadalajara.

Seed company participants said they recognize the importance of characterizing materials to set parameters of nutritional and/or industrial quality, and including this information on seed packages. They added that the methodologies used throughout the course will be helpful for further seed characterization.

“It is so gratifying to help train the new generation of researchers in lab methodologies necessary to sustain and provide extra value to maize and its products,” said Natalia Palacios, CIMMYT maize nutrition expert and workshop organizer. “However, perhaps even more gratifying is the strengthening of existing networks and establishing new partnerships with Mexican institutions.”

CIMMYT lab workers also benefited from the workshop, as it gave them the opportunity to present theoretical and practical aspects of seed characterization, and widened many of their perspectives about their work in the laboratory. “Standing in front of a big group was new for us. It was a challenging but enriching experience,” said Aldo Rosales, research assistant. “For those of us working with maize quality, it was a week of a lot of learning and a reminder that we are always gaining new knowledge.”

Thanks to the staff of CIMMYT’s and INIFAP’s maize quality labs, along with those from the training office who helped make this workshop a success. The participating Mexican institutions were INIFAP, Colegio de Postgraduados, Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, National Autonomous University of Mexico, University of Guadalajara (UDG), Tecnológico de Monterrey, Semillas Ceres, ICAMEX (an advanced research institution in Mexico State), CINVESTAV (a postgraduate and research institution), and Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (an organization based in Managua, Nicaragua, that promotes sustainable agriculture and natural resource management)