Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Hybrid Corn Slows Macular Degeneration

By Stephen Luntz

A deep gold breed of corn will offer protection against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in Australia.

The golden colour in corn comes partly from the pigment zeaxanthin. Like its fellow carotenoid lutein, zeaxanthin slows the progress of AMD, and may possibly have a role in preventing it starting. While lutein is primarily sourced from green leafy vegetables, Dr Tim O’Hare of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation says that sweet corn is our main source of zeaxanthin.

Despite this, O’Hare says, “we would need to eat between four and 11 cobs of sweet corn a day” to gain the 2 mg a day that is protective in nutritional studies. Higher concentrations are clearly required.

“The levels of zeaxanthin in our ten new ‘SuperGold’ varieties of sweet corn are more than seven times higher than in other varieties currently on the market,” O’Hare says. “High-zeaxanthin sweetcorn is easily recognised by consumers by its rich golden colour, a characteristic that will distinguish it in the marketplace.”

The body is equipped with transporters that bind to zeaxanthin and carry it directly to the eye once it has been concentrated from the diet. While O’Hare says there is “some evidence” it may also have benefits to the brain, this has yet to be confirmed.

O’Hare says the high-zeaxanthin hybrids he has produced also perform strongly for taste and disease resistance. Since the zeaxanthin survives processing into forms such as popcorn, movie-goers may soon be able to preserve their capacity to see the screen in future while enjoying a night at the cinema.