In many situations, organisms respond to stimuli by altering the activity of large numbers of genes. Among these, certain ones are likely to control the phenotype while others play a secondary role or are passively altered without directly affecting the phenotype. Identifying the controlling genes has proven difficult. However, in a few instances, it has been possible to reverse the phenotype by physiological or biochemical means without altering the genetics of the organism. During this functional reversion, only a few genes may respond, thus identifying those likely to be controlling the phenotype. Floral abortion during a water shortage in maize is an example because the response is inherently multigenic, and the phenotype can be reversed by physiological/biochemical means. A recent analysis used this reversal to reveal that only a few genes are likely to control the abortion phenotype. In maize, these genes coded for a cell wall invertase (Incw2), a soluble invertase (Ivr2), a ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP2), and phospholipase D (PLD1). The invertases appeared to control the normal sugar uptake by the ovaries. Their down-regulation depleted ovary sugar pools and resulted in an up-regulation of the genes for ribosome-inactivating protein and for phospholipase. The latter changes appeared to initiate senescence that degraded cell membranes, thus causing irreversible abortion. With these findings, these genes have become targets for preventing abortion. This approach might have value in other contexts with some additional methods.