The ionome, or elemental profile, of a maize kernel can be viewed in at least two distinct ways. First, the collection of elements within the kernel are food and feed for people and animals. Second, the ionome of the kernel represents a developmental end point that can summarize the life history of a plant, combining genetic programs and environmental interactions. We assert that single-kernel-based phenotyping of the ionome is an effective method of analysis, as it represents a reasonable compromise between precision, efficiency, and power. Here, we evaluate potential pitfalls of this sampling strategy using several field-grown maize sample sets. We demonstrate that there is enough genetically determined diversity in accumulation of many of the elements assayed to overcome potential artifacts. Further, we demonstrate that environmental signals are detectable through their influence on the kernel ionome. We conclude that using single kernels as the sampling unit is a valid approach for understanding genetic and environmental effects on the maize kernel ionome.
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