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Okay, Maybe It's Corny, but Geneticist Walton Galinat Has Developed a Square Ear

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Agricultural geneticist Walton C. Galinat didn’t react when Japanese products began to threaten the U.S. electronics and auto industries. But when a Japanese scientist invented a square watermelon, the Massachusetts professor got mad. “My ego was crushed,” Galinat says. “I had to come up with something square, too.”

He did. In the past five years Galinat has developed the world’s first square ear of corn. Why corn? Well, shucks, says Galinat, “Square ears hold the butter better and won’t roll.” What’s more, the hybrid ears Galinat has cultivated at a University of Massachusetts experimental station are half cob, half kernel (by weight), compared to a more than two-to-one ratio in traditional corn. The ears, which have four rows of kernels (normal ears have at least eight), are derived from a strain of wild grass, teosinte, native to Mexico for the past 8,000 years. Galinat interbred teosinte with sweet corn to produce the hybrid.

The 57-year-old Connecticut Yankee first became interested in plant breeding in high school in Hamden and has since grown nearly 30,000 different pedigrees of corn. A University of Connecticut graduate with a Ph.D. from Wisconsin, he joined the Massachusetts faculty in 1964 and his achievements since include a national award in 1978 for “the longest ear of the year” (an 18½-incher from his “Waltham dent” line).

He and wife Betty, who live in Newton, have two children who grew up with their dad’s taste for corn—he bakes corn bread once a week and johnnycakes every Sunday. Daughter Alice became a computer scientist but son David is in the seed business in Colorado. He, like his father, is awaiting definitive proof of the square strain’s commercial viability. So far Walton has raised square corn only for research, and warns that his yet unnamed variety can’t be mass-produced until he develops a strain sturdy enough for mechanical harvesting. But Galinat is used to adversity. He vowed in the mid-’70s to breed red-white-and-blue corn to honor America’s Bicentennial. He did it, too, only the first patriotic ear didn’t come off the stalk until 1977.