Holding, DR, Hunter BG, Chung T, Gibbon BC, Ford CF, Bharti AK, Messing J, Hamaker BR, Larkins BA.  2008.  Genetic analysis of opaque2 modifier loci in quality protein maize. Theor Appl Genet. 117:157-70. AbstractWebsite
Quality protein maize (QPM) was created by selecting genetic modifiers that convert the starchy endosperm of an opaque2 (o2) mutant to a hard, vitreous phenotype. Genetic analysis has shown that there are multiple, unlinked o2 modifiers (Opm), but their identity and mode of action are unknown. Using two independently developed QPM lines, we mapped several major Opm QTLs to chromosomes 1, 7 and 9. A microarray hybridization performed with RNA obtained from true breeding o2 progeny with vitreous and opaque kernel phenotypes identified a small group of differentially expressed genes, some of which map at or near the Opm QTLs. Several of the genes are associated with ethylene and ABA signaling and suggest a potential linkage of o2 endosperm modification with programmed cell death.
Tanaka, T, Antonio BA, Kikuchi S, Matsumoto T, Nagamura Y, Numa H, Sakai H, Wu J, Itoh T, Sasaki T et al..  2008.  The Rice Annotation Project Database (RAP-DB): 2008 update. Nucleic Acids Res. 36:D1028-33. AbstractWebsite
The Rice Annotation Project Database (RAP-DB) was created to provide the genome sequence assembly of the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), manually curated annotation of the sequence, and other genomics information that could be useful for comprehensive understanding of the rice biology. Since the last publication of the RAP-DB, the IRGSP genome has been revised and reassembled. In addition, a large number of rice-expressed sequence tags have been released, and functional genomics resources have been produced worldwide. Thus, we have thoroughly updated our genome annotation by manual curation of all the functional descriptions of rice genes. The latest version of the RAP-DB contains a variety of annotation data as follows: clone positions, structures and functions of 31 439 genes validated by cDNAs, RNA genes detected by massively parallel signature sequencing (MPSS) technology and sequence similarity, flanking sequences of mutant lines, transposable elements, etc. Other annotation data such as Gnomon can be displayed along with those of RAP for comparison. We have also developed a new keyword search system to allow the user to access useful information. The RAP-DB is available at: and
Nelson, W, Luo M, Ma J, Estep M, Estill J, He R, Talag J, Sisneros N, Kudrna D, Kim H et al..  2008.  Methylation-sensitive linking libraries enhance gene-enriched sequencing of complex genomes and map DNA methylation domains. BMC Genomics. 9:621. AbstractWebsite
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Many plant genomes are resistant to whole-genome assembly due to an abundance of repetitive sequence, leading to the development of gene-rich sequencing techniques. Two such techniques are hypomethylated partial restriction (HMPR) and methylation spanning linker libraries (MSLL). These libraries differ from other gene-rich datasets in having larger insert sizes, and the MSLL clones are designed to provide reads localized to "epigenetic boundaries" where methylation begins or ends. RESULTS: A large-scale study in maize generated 40,299 HMPR sequences and 80,723 MSLL sequences, including MSLL clones exceeding 100 kb. The paired end reads of MSLL and HMPR clones were shown to be effective in linking existing gene-rich sequences into scaffolds. In addition, it was shown that the MSLL clones can be used for anchoring these scaffolds to a BAC-based physical map. The MSLL end reads effectively identified epigenetic boundaries, as indicated by their preferential alignment to regions upstream and downstream from annotated genes. The ability to precisely map long stretches of fully methylated DNA sequence is a unique outcome of MSLL analysis, and was also shown to provide evidence for errors in gene identification. MSLL clones were observed to be significantly more repeat-rich in their interiors than in their end reads, confirming the correlation between methylation and retroelement content. Both MSLL and HMPR reads were found to be substantially gene-enriched, with the SalI MSLL libraries being the most highly enriched (31% align to an EST contig), while the HMPR clones exhibited exceptional depletion of repetitive DNA (to ~11%). These two techniques were compared with other gene-enrichment methods, and shown to be complementary. CONCLUSION: MSLL technology provides an unparalleled approach for mapping the epigenetic status of repetitive blocks and for identifying sequences mis-identified as genes. Although the types and natures of epigenetic boundaries are barely understood at this time, MSLL technology flags both approximate boundaries and methylated genes that deserve additional investigation. MSLL and HMPR sequences provide a valuable resource for maize genome annotation, and are a uniquely valuable complement to any plant genome sequencing project. In order to make these results fully accessible to the community, a web display was developed that shows the alignment of MSLL, HMPR, and other gene-rich sequences to the BACs; this display is continually updated with the latest ESTs and BAC sequences.
Messing, J, Bennetzen J.  2008.  Grass Genome Structure and Evolution. Genome Dynamics. 4:41-56.
Calviño, M, Bruggmann R, Messing J.  2008.  Screen of Genes Linked to High-Sugar Content in Stems by Comparative Genomics. Rice. 1:166-176. AbstractWebsite
One of the great advantages of the fully sequenced rice genome is to serve as a reference for other cereal genomes in particular for identifying genes linked to unique traits. A trait of great interest is reduced lignocellulose in the stem of related species in favor of fermentable sugars as a source of biofuels. While sugarcane is one of the most efficient biofuel crops, little is known about the underlying gene repertoire involved in it. Here, we take advantage of the natural variation of sweet and grain sorghum to uncover genes that are conserved in rice, sorghum, and sugarcane but differently expressed in sweet versus grain sorghum by using a microarray platform and the syntenous alignment of rice and sorghum genomic regions containing these genes. Indeed, enzymes involved in carbohydrate accumulation and those that reduce lignocellulose can be identified.
Wei, F, Coe E, Nelson W, Bharti AK, Engler F, Butler E, Kim H, Goicoechea JL, Chen M, Lee S et al..  2007.  Physical and Genetic Structure of the Maize Genome Reflects Its Complex Evolutionary History. PLoS Genet. 3:e123. AbstractWebsite
Maize (Zea mays L.) is one of the most important cereal crops and a model for the study of genetics, evolution, and domestication. To better understand maize genome organization and to build a framework for genome sequencing, we constructed a sequence-ready fingerprinted contig-based physical map that covers 93.5% of the genome, of which 86.1% is aligned to the genetic map. The fingerprinted contig map contains 25,908 genic markers that enabled us to align nearly 73% of the anchored maize genome to the rice genome. The distribution pattern of expressed sequence tags correlates to that of recombination. In collinear regions, 1 kb in rice corresponds to an average of 3.2 kb in maize, yet maize has a 6-fold genome size expansion. This can be explained by the fact that most rice regions correspond to two regions in maize as a result of its recent polyploid origin. Inversions account for the majority of chromosome structural variations during subsequent maize diploidization. We also find clear evidence of ancient genome duplication predating the divergence of the progenitors of maize and rice. Reconstructing the paleoethnobotany of the maize genome indicates that the progenitors of modern maize contained ten chromosomes.
Messing, J, Dooner HK.  2006.  Organization and variability of the maize genome. Current opinion in plant biology. 9:157-63. AbstractWebsite
With a size approximating that of the human genome, the maize genome is about to become the largest plant genome yet sequenced. Contributing to that size are a whole-genome duplication event and a retrotransposition explosion that produced a large amount of repetitive DNA. This DNA is greatly under-represented in cDNA collections, so analysis of the maize transcriptome has been an expedient way of assessing the gene content of maize. Over 2 million maize cDNA sequences are now available, making maize the third most widely studied organism, behind mouse and man. To date, the sequencing of large-sized DNA clones has been largely driven by the genetic interests of different investigators. The recent construction of a physical map that is anchored to the genetic map will aid immensely in the maize genome-sequencing effort. However, studies showing that the repetitive DNA component is highly polymorphic among maize inbred lines point to the need to sample vertically a few specific regions of the genome to evaluate the extent and importance of this variability.
Du, C, Swigonova Z, Messing J.  2006.  Retrotranspositions in orthologous regions of closely related grass species. BMC evolutionary biology. 6:62. AbstractWebsite
BACKGROUND: Retrotransposons are commonly occurring eukaryotic transposable elements (TEs). Among these, long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons are the most abundant TEs and can comprise 50-90% of the genome in higher plants. By comparing the orthologous chromosomal regions of closely related species, the effects of TEs on the evolution of plant genomes can be studied in detail. RESULTS: Here, we compared the composition and organization of TEs within five orthologous chromosomal regions among three grass species: maize, sorghum, and rice. We identified a total of 132 full or fragmented LTR retrotransposons in these regions. As a percentage of the total cumulative sequence in each species, LTR retrotransposons occupy 45.1% of the maize, 21.1% of the rice, and 3.7% of the sorghum regions. The most common elements in the maize retrotransposon-rich regions are the copia-like retrotransposons with 39% and the gypsy-like retrotransposons with 37%. Using the contiguous sequence of the orthologous regions, we detected 108 retrotransposons with intact target duplication sites and both LTR termini. Here, we show that 74% of these elements inserted into their host genome less than 1 million years ago and that many retroelements expanded in size by the insertion of other sequences. These inserts were predominantly other retroelements, however, several of them were also fragmented genes. Unforeseen was the finding of intact genes embedded within LTR retrotransposons. CONCLUSION: Although the abundance of retroelements between maize and rice is consistent with their different genome sizes of 2,364 and 389 Mb respectively, the content of retrotransposons in sorghum (790 Mb) is surprisingly low. In all three species, retrotransposition is a very recent activity relative to their speciation. While it was known that genes re-insert into non-orthologous positions of plant genomes, they appear to re-insert also within retrotransposons, potentially providing an important role for retrotransposons in the evolution of gene function.
Bruggmann, R, Bharti AK, Gundlach H, Lai J, Young S, Pontaroli AC, Wei F, Haberer G, Fuks G, Du C et al..  2006.  Uneven chromosome contraction and expansion in the maize genome. Genome research. 16:1241-51. AbstractWebsite
Maize (Zea mays or corn), both a major food source and an important cytogenetic model, evolved from a tetraploid that arose about 4.8 million years ago (Mya). As a result, maize has extensive duplicated regions within its genome. We have sequenced the two copies of one such region, generating 7.8 Mb of sequence spanning 17.4 cM of the short arm of chromosome 1 and 6.6 Mb (25.6 cM) from the long arm of chromosome 9. Rice, which did not undergo a similar whole genome duplication event, has only one orthologous region (4.9 Mb) on the short arm of chromosome 3, and can be used as reference for the maize homoeologous regions. Alignment of the three regions allowed identification of syntenic blocks, and indicated that the maize regions have undergone differential contraction in genic and intergenic regions and expansion by the insertion of retrotransposable elements. Approximately 9% of the predicted genes in each duplicated region are completely missing in the rice genome, and almost 20% have moved to other genomic locations. Predicted genes within these regions tend to be larger in maize than in rice, primarily because of the presence of predicted genes in maize with larger introns. Interestingly, the general gene methylation patterns in the maize homoeologous regions do not appear to have changed with contraction or expansion of their chromosomes. In addition, no differences in methylation of single genes and tandemly repeated gene copies have been detected. These results, therefore, provide new insights into the diploidization of polyploid species.
Matsumoto, T, Wu JZ, Kanamori H, Katayose Y, Fujisawa M, Namiki N, Mizuno H, Yamamoto K, Antonio BA, Baba T et al..  2005.  The map-based sequence of the rice genome. Nature. 436:793-800.Website
Lai, J, Li Y, Messing J, Dooner HK.  2005.  Gene movement by Helitron transposons contributes to the haplotype variability of maize. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 102:9068-73. AbstractWebsite
Different maize inbred lines are polymorphic for the presence or absence of genic sequences at various allelic chromosomal locations. In the bz genomic region, located in 9S, sequences homologous to four different genes from rice and Arabidopsis are present in line McC but absent from line B73. It is shown here that this apparent intraspecific violation of genetic colinearity arises from the movement of genes or gene fragments by Helitrons, a recently discovered class of eukaryotic transposons. Two Helitrons, HelA and HelB, account for all of the genic differences distinguishing the two bz locus haplotypes. HelA is 5.9 kb long and contains sequences for three of the four genes found only in the McC bz genomic region. A nearly identical copy of HelA was isolated from a 5S chromosomal location in B73. Both the 9S and 5S sites appear to be polymorphic in maize, suggesting that these Helitrons have been active recently. Helitrons lack the strong predictive terminal features of other transposons, so the definition of their ends is greatly facilitated by the identification of their vacant sites in Helitron-minus lines. The ends of the 2.7-kb HelB Helitron were discerned from a comparison of the McC haplotype sequence with that of yet a third line, Mo17, because the HelB vacant site is deleted in B73. Maize Helitrons resemble rice Pack-MULEs in their ability to capture genes or gene fragments from several loci and move them around the genome, features that confer on them a potential role in gene evolution.
Haberer, G, Young S, Bharti AK, Gundlach H, Raymond C, Fuks G, Butler E, Wing RA, Rounsley S, Birren B et al..  2005.  Structure and architecture of the maize genome. Plant physiology. 139:1612-24. AbstractWebsite
Maize (Zea mays or corn) plays many varied and important roles in society. It is not only an important experimental model plant, but also a major livestock feed crop and a significant source of industrial products such as sweeteners and ethanol. In this study we report the systematic analysis of contiguous sequences of the maize genome. We selected 100 random regions averaging 144 kb in size, representing about 0.6% of the genome, and generated a high-quality dataset for sequence analysis. This sampling contains 330 annotated genes, 91% of which are supported by expressed sequence tag data from maize and other cereal species. Genes averaged 4 kb in size with five exons, although the largest was over 59 kb with 31 exons. Gene density varied over a wide range from 0.5 to 10.7 genes per 100 kb and genes did not appear to cluster significantly. The total repetitive element content we observed (66%) was slightly higher than previous whole-genome estimates (58%-63%) and consisted almost exclusively of retroelements. The vast majority of genes can be aligned to at least one sequence read derived from gene-enrichment procedures, but only about 30% are fully covered. Our results indicate that much of the increase in genome size of maize relative to rice (Oryza sativa) and Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) is attributable to an increase in number of both repetitive elements and genes.
Swigonova, Z, Bennetzen JL, Messing J.  2005.  Structure and evolution of the r/b chromosomal regions in rice, maize and sorghum. Genetics. 169:891-906. AbstractWebsite
The r1 and b1 genes of maize, each derived from the chromosomes of two progenitors that hybridized >4.8 million years ago (MYA), have been a rich source for studying transposition, recombination, genomic imprinting, and paramutation. To provide a phylogenetic context to the genetic studies, we sequenced orthologous regions from maize and sorghum (>600 kb) surrounding these genes and compared them with the rice genome. This comparison showed that the homologous regions underwent complete or partial gene deletions, selective retention of orthologous genes, and insertion of nonorthologous genes. Phylogenetic analyses of the r/b genes revealed that the ancestral gene was amplified independently in different grass lineages, that rice experienced an intragenomic gene movement and parallel duplication, that the maize r1 and b1 genes are descendants of two divergent progenitors, and that the two paralogous r genes of sorghum are almost as old as the sorghum lineage. Such sequence mobility also extends to linked genes. The cisZOG genes are characterized by gene amplification in an ancestral grass, parallel duplications and deletions in different grass lineages, and movement to a nonorthologous position in maize. In addition to gene mobility, both maize and rice regions experienced recent transposition (<3 MYA).
Lai, J, Dey N, Kim CS, Bharti AK, Rudd S, Mayer KF, Larkins BA, Becraft P, Messing J.  2004.  Characterization of the maize endosperm transcriptome and its comparison to the rice genome. Genome research. 14:1932-7. AbstractWebsite
The cereal endosperm is a major organ of the seed and an important component of the world's food supply. To understand the development and physiology of the endosperm of cereal seeds, we focused on the identification of genes expressed at various times during maize endosperm development. We constructed several cDNA libraries to identify full-length clones and subjected them to a twofold enrichment. A total of 23,348 high-quality sequence-reads from 5'- and 3'-ends of cDNAs were generated and assembled into a unigene set representing 5326 genes with paired sequence-reads. Additional sequencing yielded a total of 3160 (59%) completely sequenced, full-length cDNAs. From 5326 unigenes, 4139 (78%) can be aligned with 5367 predicted rice genes and by taking only the "best hit" be mapped to 3108 positions on the rice genome. The 22% unigenes not present in rice indicate a rapid change of gene content between rice and maize in only 50 million years. Differences in rice and maize gene numbers also suggest that maize has lost a large number of duplicated genes following tetraploidization. The larger number of gene copies in rice suggests that as many as 30% of its genes arose from gene amplification, which would extrapolate to a significant proportion of the estimated 44,027 candidate genes of its entire genome. Functional classification of the maize endosperm unigene set indicated that more than a fourth of the novel functionally assignable genes found in this study are involved in carbohydrate metabolism, consistent with its role as a storage organ.
Swigonova, Z, Lai J, Ma J, Ramakrishna W, Llaca V, Bennetzen JL, Messing J.  2004.  Close split of sorghum and maize genome progenitors. Genome research. 14:1916-23. AbstractWebsite
It is generally believed that maize (Zea mays L. ssp. mays) arose as a tetraploid; however, the two progenitor genomes cannot be unequivocally traced within the genome of modern maize. We have taken a new approach to investigate the origin of the maize genome. We isolated and sequenced large genomic fragments from the regions surrounding five duplicated loci from the maize genome and their orthologous loci in sorghum, and then we compared these sequences with the orthologous regions in the rice genome. Within the studied segments, we identified 11 genes that were conserved in location, order, and orientation. We performed phylogenetic and distance analyses and examined the patterns of estimated times of divergence for sorghum and maize gene orthologs and also the time of divergence for maize orthologs. Our results support a tetraploid origin of maize. This analysis also indicates contemporaneous divergence of the ancestral sorghum genome and the two maize progenitor genomes about 11.9 million years ago (Mya). On the basis of a putative conversion event detected for one of the genes, tetraploidization must have occurred before 4.8 Mya, and therefore, preceded the major maize genome expansion by gene amplification and retrotransposition.
Song, R, Segal G, Messing J.  2004.  Expression of the sorghum 10-member kafirin gene cluster in maize endosperm. Nucleic acids research. 32:e189. AbstractWebsite
Functional analysis of chromosomal segments containing linked genes requires the insertion of contiguous genomic sequences from bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) into the genome. Therefore, we introduced a 90-kb large BAC clone carrying a 10-copy tandem array of kafirin storage protein genes from sorghum linkage group J, mixed with a selectable marker gene, directly into maize cells using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic plants were regenerated and seeds from eight different transgenic lines were produced. One such transgenic plant was selected that had the entire kafirin gene cluster on a single continuous DNA fragment spanning more than 45 kb integrated into its genome. When alcohol-soluble proteins from individual T2 and T3 seeds of this event were analyzed, significant levels of kafirin were found in addition to the endogenous zein storage proteins, demonstrating that the large exogenous DNA segment is stably integrated into the maize genome and expressed at high levels in subsequent generations. Therefore, we could provide a new utility of plant transformation by the particle bombardment method for functional genomics of multigene families and the modification of the nutritive quality of cereal grains. Despite a tandem array of highly homologous sequences at the transgenic locus, no gene silencing was observed, probably owing to the effects of co-transformed flanking sequences. The expression studies of the transgenic locus also revealed new features of storage protein gene promoters that differed from previous transient gene expression studies, thereby illustrating the significance of the concentration and configuration of DNA-protein interactions in the regulation of gene expression.
Lai, J, Ma J, Swigonova Z, Ramakrishna W, Linton E, Llaca V, Tanyolac B, Park YJ, Jeong OY, Bennetzen JL et al..  2004.  Gene loss and movement in the maize genome. Genome research. 14:1924-31. AbstractWebsite
Maize (Zea mays L. ssp. mays), one of the most important agricultural crops in the world, originated by hybridization of two closely related progenitors. To investigate the fate of its genes after tetraploidization, we analyzed the sequence of five duplicated regions from different chromosomal locations. We also compared corresponding regions from sorghum and rice, two important crops that have largely collinear maps with maize. The split of sorghum and maize progenitors was recently estimated to be 11.9 Mya, whereas rice diverged from the common ancestor of maize and sorghum approximately 50 Mya. A data set of roughly 4 Mb yielded 206 predicted genes from the three species, excluding any transposon-related genes, but including eight gene remnants. On average, 14% of the genes within the aligned regions are noncollinear between any two species. However, scoring each maize region separately, the set of noncollinear genes between all four regions jumps to 68%. This is largely because at least 50% of the duplicated genes from the two progenitors of maize have been lost over a very short period of time, possibly as short as 5 million years. Using the nearly completed rice sequence, we found noncollinear genes in other chromosomal positions, frequently in more than one. This demonstrates that many genes in these species have moved to new chromosomal locations in the last 50 million years or less, most as single gene events that did not dramatically alter gene structure.
Clark, RM, Linton E, Messing J, Doebley JF.  2004.  Pattern of diversity in the genomic region near the maize domestication gene tb1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101:700-7. AbstractWebsite
Domesticated maize and its wild ancestor (teosinte) differ strikingly in morphology and afford an opportunity to examine the connection between strong selection and diversity in a major crop species. The tb1 gene largely controls the increase in apical dominance in maize relative to teosinte, and a region of the tb1 locus 5' to the transcript sequence was a target of selection during maize domestication. To better characterize the impact of selection at a major "domestication" locus, we have sequenced the upstream tb1 genomic region and systematically sampled nucleotide diversity for sites located as far as 163 kb upstream to tb1. Our analyses define a selective sweep of approximately 60-90 kb 5' to the tb1 transcribed sequence. The selected region harbors a mixture of unique sequences and large repetitive elements, but it contains no predicted genes. Diversity at the nearest 5' gene to tb1 is typical of that for neutral maize loci, indicating that selection at tb1 has had a minimal impact on the surrounding chromosomal region. Our data also show low intergenic linkage disequilibrium in the region and suggest that selection has had a minor role in shaping the pattern of linkage disequilibrium that is observed. Finally, our data raise the possibility that maize-like tb1 haplotypes are present in extant teosinte populations, and our findings also suggest a model of tb1 gene regulation that differs from traditional views of how plant gene expression is controlled.
Messing, J, Bharti AK, Karlowski WM, Gundlach H, Kim HR, Yu Y, Wei F, Fuks G, Soderlund CA, Mayer KF et al..  2004.  Sequence composition and genome organization of maize. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101:14349-54. AbstractWebsite
Zea mays L. ssp. mays, or corn, one of the most important crops and a model for plant genetics, has a genome approximately 80% the size of the human genome. To gain global insight into the organization of its genome, we have sequenced the ends of large insert clones, yielding a cumulative length of one-eighth of the genome with a DNA sequence read every 6.2 kb, thereby describing a large percentage of the genes and transposable elements of maize in an unbiased approach. Based on the accumulative 307 Mb of sequence, repeat sequences occupy 58% and genic regions occupy 7.5%. A conservative estimate predicts approximately 59,000 genes, which is higher than in any other organism sequenced so far. Because the sequences are derived from bacterial artificial chromosome clones, which are ordered in overlapping bins, tagged genes are also ordered along continuous chromosomal segments. Based on this positional information, roughly one-third of the genes appear to consist of tandemly arrayed gene families. Although the ancestor of maize arose by tetraploidization, fewer than half of the genes appear to be present in two orthologous copies, indicating that the maize genome has undergone significant gene loss since the duplication event.
Song, R, Messing J.  2003.  Gene expression of a gene family in maize based on noncollinear haplotypes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 100:9055-60. AbstractWebsite
Genomic regions of nearly every species diverged into different haplotypes, mostly based on point mutations, small deletions, and insertions that do not affect the collinearity of genes within a species. However, the same genomic interval containing the z1C gene cluster of two inbred lines of Zea mays significantly lost their gene collinearity and also differed in the regulation of each remaining gene set. Furthermore, when inbreds were reciprocally crossed, hybrids exhibited an unexpected shift of expression patterns so that "overdominance" instead of "dominance complementation" of allelic and nonallelic gene expression occurred. The same interval also differed in length (360 vs. 263 kb). Segmental rearrangements led to sequence changes, which were further enhanced by the insertion of different transposable elements. Changes in gene order affected not only z1C genes but also three unrelated genes. However, the orthologous interval between two subspecies of rice (not rice cultivars) was conserved in length and gene order, whereas changes between two maize inbreds were as drastic as changes between maize and sorghum. Given that chromosomes could conceivably consist of intervals of haplotypes that are highly diverged, one could envision endless breeding opportunities because of their linear arrangement along a chromosome and their expression potential in hybrid combinations ("binary" systems). The implication of such a hypothesis for heterosis is discussed.
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.
Song, R, Messing J.  2002.  Contiguous genomic DNA sequence comprising the 19-kD zein gene family from maize. Plant physiology. 130:1626-35. AbstractWebsite
A new approach has been undertaken to analyze the sequences and linear organization of the 19-kD zein genes in maize (Zea mays). A high-coverage, large-insert genomic library of the inbred line B73 based on bacterial artificial chromosomes was used to isolate a redundant set of clones containing members of the 19-kD zein gene family, which previously had been estimated to consist of 50 members. The redundant set of clones was used to create bins of overlapping clones that represented five distinct genomic regions. Representative clones containing the entire set of 19-kD zein genes were chosen from each region and sequenced. Seven bacterial artificial chromosome clones yielded 1,160 kb of genomic DNA. Three of them formed a contiguous sequence of 478 kb, the longest contiguous sequenced region of the maize genome. Altogether, these DNA sequences provide the linear organization of 25 19-kD zein genes, one-half the number previously estimated. It is suggested that the difference is because of haplotypes exhibiting different degrees of gene amplification in the zein multigene family. About one-half the genes present in B73 appear to be expressed. Because some active genes have only been duplicated recently, they are so conserved in their sequence that previous cDNA sequence analysis resulted in "unigenes" that were actually derived from different gene copies. This analysis also shows that the 22- and 19-kD zein gene families shared a common ancestor. Although both ancestral genes had the same incremental gene amplification, the 19-kD zein branch exhibited a greater degree of far-distance gene translocations than the 22-kD zein gene family.
Lai, J, Messing J.  2002.  Increasing maize seed methionine by mRNA stability. The Plant journal : for cell and molecular biology. 30:395-402. AbstractWebsite
The amino acid methionine is a common protein building block that is also important in other cellular processes. Plants, unlike animals, synthesize methionine de novo and are thus a dietary source of this nutrient. A new approach for using maize as a source of nutrient methionine is described. Maize seeds, a major component of animal feeds, have variable levels of protein-bound methionine. This variability is a result of post-transcriptional regulation of the Dzs10 gene, which encodes a seed-specific high-methionine storage protein. Here we eliminate methionine variability by identifying and replacing the cis-acting site for Dzs10 regulation using transgenic seeds. Interestingly, two different mechanisms affect mRNA accumulation, one dependent on and the other independent of the untranslated regions (UTRs) of Dzs10 RNA. Accumulation of chimeric Dzs10 mRNA was not reduced in hybrid crosses and was uncoupled from genomic imprinting by Dzr1, a regulator of Dzs10. Uniform high levels of Dzs10 protein were maintained over five backcross generations of the transgene. The increased level of methionine in these transgenic seeds allowed the formulation of a useful animal feed ration without the addition of synthetic methionine.
Song, R, Llaca V, Messing J.  2002.  Mosaic organization of orthologous sequences in grass genomes. Genome research. 12:1549-55. AbstractWebsite
Although comparative genetic mapping studies show extensive genome conservation among grasses, recent data provide many exceptions to gene collinearity at the DNA sequence level. Rice, sorghum, and maize are closely related grass species, once sharing a common ancestor. Because they diverged at different times during evolution, they provide an excellent model to investigate sequence divergence. We isolated, sequenced, and compared orthologous regions from two rice subspecies, sorghum, and maize to investigate the nature of their sequence differences. This study represents the most extensive sequence comparison among grasses, including the largest contiguous genomic sequences from sorghum (425 kb) and maize (435 kb) to date. Our results reveal a mosaic organization of the orthologous regions, with conserved sequences interspersed with nonconserved sequences. Gene amplification, gene movement, and retrotransposition account for the majority of the nonconserved sequences. Our analysis also shows that gene amplification is frequently linked with gene movement. Analyzing an additional 2.9 Mb of genomic sequence from rice not only corroborates our observations, but also suggests that a significant portion of grass genomes may consist of paralogous sequences derived from gene amplification. We propose that sequence divergence started from hotspots along chromosomes and expanded by accumulating small-scale genomic changes during evolution.