Early cultivators had to notice among their stands of plants variants in which the nutritious kernels were at least partially exposed, or whose ears held together better, or that had more rows of kernels, and they had to selectively breed them. It is estimated that the initial domestication process that produced the basic maize form required at least several hundred to perhaps a few thousand years.
SHOOT: We owe more than we know to hundreds of years of painstaking efforts undertaken by much simpler and tougher folk than ourselves. We owe them our gratitude.
Corn is much more than great summer picnic food, however. Civilization owes much to this plant, and to the early people who first cultivated it.
However, a few scientists working during the first part of the 20th century uncovered evidence that they believed linked maize to what, at first glance, would seem to be a very unlikely parent, a Mexican grass called teosinte. Looking at the skinny ears of teosinte, with just a dozen kernels wrapped inside a stone-hard casing, it is hard to see how they could be the forerunners of corn cobs with their many rows of juicy, naked kernels. Indeed, teosinte was at first classified as a closer relative of rice than of maize.
Dr. Beadle’s results showed that maize and teosinte were without any doubt remarkably and closely related. But to pinpoint the geographic origins of maize, more definitive forensic techniques were needed. This was DNA typing, exactly the same technology used by the courts to determine paternity.