Wu, Y, Wang W, Messing J.  2012.  Balancing of sulfur storage in maize seed. BMC plant biology. 12:77. AbstractWebsite
A balanced composition of amino acids in seed flour is critical because of the demand on essential amino acids for nutrition. However, seed proteins in cereals like maize, the crop with the highest yield, are low in lysine, tryptophan, and methionine. Although supplementation with legumes like soybean can compensate lysine deficiency, both crops are also relatively low in methionine. Therefore, understanding the mechanism of methionine accumulation in the seed could be a basis for breeding cultivars with superior nutritional quality.
Wu, Y, Messing J.  2012.  RNA Interference Can Rebalance the Nitrogen Sink of Maize Seeds without Losing Hard Endosperm. PLoS One. 7:e32850. AbstractWebsite
BACKGROUND: One of the goals of plant breeding is to create crops to provide better nutrition for humans and livestock. Insufficient intake of protein is one of the most severe factors affecting the growth and development of children in developing countries. More than a century ago, in 1896, Hopkins initiated the well-known Illinois long-term selection for maize seed protein concentration, yielding four protein strains. By continuously accumulating QTLs, Illinois High Protein (IHP) reached a protein level 2.5-fold higher than normal maize, with the most increased fraction being the zein protein, which was shown to contain no lysine soon after the long-term selection program initiated. Therefore, IHP is of little value for feeding humans and monogastric animals. Although high-lysine lines of non-vitreous mutants were based on reduced zeins, the kernel soft texture precluded their practical use. Kernel hardness in opaque 2 (o2) could be restored in quality protein maize (QPM) with quantitative trait loci called o2 modifiers (Mo2s), but those did not increase total protein levels. METHODS: The most predominant zeins are the 22- and 19-kDa alpha-zeins. To achieve a combination of desired traits, we used RNA interference (RNAi) against both alpha-zeins in IHP and evaluated the silencing effect by SDS-PAGE. Total protein, amino acid composition and kernel texture were analyzed. CONCLUSIONS: The alpha-zeins were dramatically reduced, but the high total seed protein level remained unchanged by complementary increase of non-zein proteins. Moreover, the residual zein levels still allowed for a vitreous hard seed. Such dramatic rebalancing of the nitrogen sink could have a major impact in world food supply.
Wu, Y, Messing J.  2011.  Novel Genetic Selection System for Quantitative Trait Loci of Quality Protein Maize. Genetics. 188:1019-1022. AbstractWebsite
Quality Protein Maize combines a high-lysine trait with kernel hardness, for which a new simpler genetic selection was designed.
Wu, Y, Messing J.  2010.  Rescue of a dominant mutant with RNA interference. Genetics. 186:1493-6. AbstractWebsite
Maize Mucronate1 is a dominant floury mutant based on a misfolded 16-kDa gamma-zein protein. To prove its function, we applied RNA interference (RNAi) as a dominant suppressor of the mutant seed phenotype. A gamma-zein RNAi transgene was able to rescue the mutation and restore normal seed phenotype. RNA interference prevents gene expression. In most cases, this is used to study gene function by creating a new phenotype. Here, we use it for the opposite purpose. We use it to reverse the creation of a mutant phenotype by restoring the normal phenotype. In the case of the maize Mucronate1 (Mc1) phenotype, interaction of a misfolded protein with other proteins is believed to be the basis for the Mc1 phenotype. If no misfolded protein is present, we can reverse the mutant to the normal phenotype. One can envision using this approach to study complex traits and in gene therapy.
Wu, Y, Messing J.  2010.  RNA interference-mediated change in protein body morphology and seed opacity through loss of different zein proteins. Plant Physiol. 153:337-47. AbstractWebsite
Opaque or nonvitreous phenotypes relate to the seed architecture of maize (Zea mays) and are linked to loci that control the accumulation and proper deposition of storage proteins, called zeins, into specialized organelles in the endosperm, called protein bodies. However, in the absence of null mutants of each type of zein (i.e. alpha, beta, gamma, and delta), the molecular contribution of these proteins to seed architecture remains unclear. Here, a double null mutant for the delta-zeins, the 22-kD alpha-zein, the beta-zein, and the gamma-zein RNA interference (RNAi; designated as z1CRNAi, betaRNAi, and gammaRNAi, respectively) and their combinations have been examined. While the delta-zein double null mutant had negligible effects on protein body formation, the betaRNAi and gammaRNAi alone only cause slight changes. Substantial loss of the 22-kD alpha-zeins by z1CRNAi resulted in protein body budding structures, indicating that a sufficient amount of the 22-kD zeins is necessary for maintenance of a normal protein body shape. Among different mutant combinations, only the combined betaRNAi and gammaRNAi resulted in drastic morphological changes, while other combinations did not. Overexpression of alpha-kafirins, the homologues of the maize 22-kD alpha-zeins in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), in the beta/gammaRNAi mutant failed to offset the morphological alterations, indicating that beta- and gamma-zeins have redundant and unique functions in the stabilization of protein bodies. Indeed, opacity of the beta/gammaRNAi mutant was caused by incomplete embedding of the starch granules rather than by reducing the vitreous zone.
Wu, Y, Holding DR, Messing J.  2010.  Gamma-zeins are essential for endosperm modification in quality protein maize. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 107:12810-5. AbstractWebsite
Essential amino acids like lysine and tryptophan are deficient in corn meal because of the abundance of zein storage proteins that lack these amino acids. A natural mutant, opaque 2 (o2) causes reduction of zeins, an increase of nonzein proteins, and as a consequence, a doubling of lysine levels. However, o2's soft inferior kernels precluded its commercial use. Breeders subsequently overcame kernel softness, selecting several quantitative loci (QTLs), called o2 modifiers, without losing the high-lysine trait. These maize lines are known as "quality protein maize" (QPM). One of the QTLs is linked to the 27-kDa gamma-zein locus on chromosome 7S. Moreover, QPM lines have 2- to 3-fold higher levels of the 27-kDa gamma-zein, but the physiological significance of this increase is not known. Because the 27- and 16-kDa gamma-zein genes are highly conserved in DNA sequence, we introduced a dominant RNAi transgene into a QPM line (CM105Mo2) to eliminate expression of them both. Elimination of gamma-zeins disrupts endosperm modification by o2 modifiers, indicating their hypostatic action to gamma-zeins. Abnormalities in protein body structure and their interaction with starch granules in the F1 with Mo2/+; o2/o2; gammaRNAi/+ genotype suggests that gamma-zeins are essential for restoring protein body density and starch grain interaction in QPM. To eliminate pleiotropic effects caused by o2, the 22-kDa alpha-zein, gamma-zein, and beta-zein RNAis were stacked, resulting in protein bodies forming as honeycomb-like structures. We are unique in presenting clear demonstration that gamma-zeins play a mechanistic role in QPM, providing a previously unexplored rationale for molecular breeding.
Segal, G, Song R, Messing J.  2003.  A new opaque variant of maize by a single dominant RNA-interference-inducing transgene. Genetics. 165:387-97. AbstractWebsite
In maize, alpha-zeins, the main protein components of seed stores, are major determinants of nutritional imbalance when maize is used as the sole food source. Mutations like opaque-2 (o2) are used in breeding varieties with improved nutritional quality. However, o2 works in a recessive fashion by affecting the expression of a subset of 22-kD alpha-zeins, as well as additional endosperm gene functions. Thus, we sought a dominant mutation that could suppress the storage protein genes without interrupting O2 synthesis. We found that maize transformed with RNA interference (RNAi) constructs derived from a 22-kD zein gene could produce a dominant opaque phenotype. This phenotype segregates in a normal Mendelian fashion and eliminates 22-kD zeins without affecting the accumulation of other zein proteins. A system for regulated transgene expression generating antisense RNA also reduced the expression of 22-kD zein genes, but failed to give an opaque phenotype. Therefore, it appears that small interfering RNAs not only may play an important regulatory role during plant development, but also are effective genetic tools for dissecting the function of gene families. Since the dominant phenotype is also correlated with increased lysine content, the new mutant illustrates an approach for creating more nutritious crop plants.
Park, W, Li J, Song R, Messing J, Chen X.  2002.  CARPEL FACTORY, a Dicer homolog, and HEN1, a novel protein, act in microRNA metabolism in Arabidopsis thaliana. Current biology : CB. 12:1484-95. AbstractWebsite
BACKGROUND: In metazoans, microRNAs, or miRNAs, constitute a growing family of small regulatory RNAs that are usually 19-25 nucleotides in length. They are processed from longer precursor RNAs that fold into stem-loop structures by the ribonuclease Dicer and are thought to regulate gene expression by base pairing with RNAs of protein-coding genes. In Arabidopsis thaliana, mutations in CARPEL FACTORY (CAF), a Dicer homolog, and those in a novel gene, HEN1, result in similar, multifaceted developmental defects, suggesting a similar function of the two genes, possibly in miRNA metabolism.RESULTS: To investigate the potential functions of CAF and HEN1 in miRNA metabolism, we aimed to isolate miRNAs from Arabidopsis and examine their accumulation during plant development in wild-type plants and in hen1-1 and caf-1 mutant plants. We have isolated 11 miRNAs, some of which have potential homologs in tobacco, rice, and maize. The putative precursors of these miRNAs have the capacity to form stable stem-loop structures. The accumulation of these miRNAs appears to be spatially or temporally controlled in plant development, and their abundance is greatly reduced in caf-1 and hen1-1 mutants. HEN1 homologs are found in bacterial, fungal, and metazoan genomes.CONCLUSIONS: miRNAs are present in both plant and animal kingdoms. An evolutionarily conserved mechanism involving a protein, known as Dicer in animals and CAF in Arabidopsis, operates in miRNA metabolism. HEN1 is a new player in miRNA accumulation in Arabidopsis, and HEN1 homologs in metazoans may have a similar function. The developmental defects associated with caf-1 and hen1-1 mutations and the patterns of miRNA accumulation suggest that miRNAs play fundamental roles in plant development.