Design Your Own Corn

Determine a pretend corn’s DNA destiny with the flip of a coin.

About the Activity

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is found inside living organisms and contains all the information about how the organism will look and function. DNA contains genes, and genes carry the information that determines the traits. Traits are the features or characteristics, such as the color, height, or shape.

You might already know that humans have DNA to guide individual traits, too, but in this activity we’ll look at plant biotechnology to learn how scientists modify plants to exhibit new or improved characteristics – then create our own corn, deciding its characteristics with a coin flip!

This activity is part of our 4-H at Home Plant Science Series. See the rest of the activities here.

Grades: 6-8
Topic: Agriculture, Plant Science, STEM
Estimated Time: 45-60 minutes

Brought to you by University of Georgia Extension/4-H and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Special thanks to Kasey Bozeman, Extension 4-H Specialist

Multiple cobs of corn


  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Chenille sticks
  • Tissue paper
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Activity Steps

  1. Flip 2 coins and record the outcome (heads or tails) in the green columns in your downloadable observation sheet. Repeat this action five more times. The two coins represent the traits passed along to the offspring plant from the two parent plants.Did you know? Gregor Mendel, a scientist who did plant research with primarily pea plants, is probably the most famous plant geneticist and known as the “Father of Genetics.” Long before Mendel’s work, scientists cross-bred plants, trying to get desirable characteristics; however, these scientists believed that the characteristics or traits are blended instead of being passed on from parent to offspring. When plant reproduction happens, two parent plants create a new plant. Mendel found that these new plants got two genes for each trait–one from each parent plant.
A child's hand holding two coins
  1. Next, determine what the result is (dominant or recessive) for each round. In this activity, we’ll assume that a complete dominance situation is occurring. This means that if the dominant trait is present, it will be exhibited in the plant.
    Heads represent a dominant trait, in this activity, so if heads are displayed, the dominant trait will be displayed:
    Heads & Heads = Dominant Trait
    Heads & Tails = Dominant Trait
    Tails represent a recessive trait, so if both coins display tails, then the recessive trait will be displayed:
    Tails & Tails = Recessive TraitDid you know? Although each new plant gets two genes for each trait, Mendel shocked the world by identifying that some traits are dominant and some traits are recessive. Dominant traits always show their effect in one way or another, even if the individual only has one version of the gene/trait.
  2. Use the results of the coin flips that you recorded on your chart to determine what specific characteristics are going to be displayed with your corn plant.
    Round #1 – Size of the ear of corn
    Dominant = Large
    Recessive = Small
    Round #2 – Shape of the ear of corn
    Dominant = Oval
    Recessive = Circle
    Round #3 – Shape of the corn kernel
    Dominant = Oval
    Recessive = Circle
    Round #4 – Color of the corn kernel
    Dominant = Yellow
    Recessive = Orange
    Round #5 – Color of the corn husk/leaves
    Dominant = Green
    Recessive = Green with yellow stripes
    Round #6 = Color of the silk
    Dominant = Brown
    Recessive = BlackDid you know? More corn is produced worldwide each year than any other major crop. Modern corn or maize was likely domesticated from Mexican wild grass somewhere around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Over time, botanists genetically altered corn to create different hybrid varieties with more desirable characteristics like higher yields, faster-growing times, or not needing much water. Many of today’s modern 4-H clubs began in the early 1900s when young groups began to grow hybrid varieties of corn! They kept detailed records and exhibited their corn for judging after the fall harvest.
  3. Using your supplies, create your corn plant! You can draw your corn plant or construct it into a 3-D model. Be creative, but remember you must make sure the correct characteristics are being displayed. In all likelihood, no two people in your group who try this activity will have identical corn characteristics.Did you know? Soybeans are one of the world's most important crops. Not only can humans eat soybeans and use soybean oil, but soybeans are also used in feed concentrates for cows and chickens. Over 80% of the world’s soybeans have been modified to increase crop yields and decrease the impact on our natural resources.

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder:

  1. In the simulation, what did the two coins represent?
  2. If one coin landed on heads (dominant) and one coin landed on tails (recessive), the dominant trait would be expressed. Why was that?
  3. How do scientists use genetics to create desirable traits in plants?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Many 4-H programs began in the early 1900s when youth learned about new farming practices.

In 1904, most of Georgia was farmland and agriculture was important to everyday life. To prepare kids, Mr. G. C. Adams, a school superintendent in Newton County, brainstormed a way to teach about future careers in farming and began the first Georgia Boys Corn. In this early club, boys planted and cared for their crop, and exhibited at the fair.

Around the same time, Mr. P. D. Johnson, a black teacher in Newton County, started the Negro 4-H program with a corn demonstration garden for sons and fathers who wanted to learn modern corn production practices.

A few short years later in 1908, the girls of Hancock County started the Girls Tomato Canning Club. They grew tomatoes in their family vegetable gardens and canned them for competition.

Interest in clubs continued to evolve to include chicken clubs, cotton clubs, and gardening clubs.

A field of corn

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No endorsement of these supporters' products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H. This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, AFRI - Education and Workforce Development project 2021-67037-33376.9

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