Gamma-zeins are essential for endosperm modification in quality protein maize

Wu, Y, Holding DR, Messing J.  2010.  


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

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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.


Wu, YongruiHolding, David RMessing, JoachimResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tUnited StatesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of AmericaProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jul 20;107(29):12810-5. Epub 2010 Jul 6.

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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.