An abnormal build-up of carbohydrates – sugars and starches – in the kernels and leaves of a mutant corn line can be traced to a poorly regulated gene, and this finding offers clues to how the plant handles stress.
This is the conclusion of the researchers at Penn State whose previous study discovered the Maize ufo1 gene responsible for creating the mutant corn line. They are currently evaluating its effects and potential for inclusion in breeding new corn lines better able to thrive in a warming world. The discovery of higher sugar levels in plant tissues in their latest study is just another aspect for plant breeders to consider.
“This finding has implications for food security and the breeding of new crop lines that can better cope with climate change – with maize, there is still a long way to go,” said Surinder Chopra, professor of maize genetics at the College of Agricultural Sciences. . “In fact, there is great genetic and phenotypic diversity in corn, and we can use that diversity and ask ourselves, ‘How is the ufo1 gene distributed in the 10,000 existing germplasm lines? “”
Can plant breeders select some of this diversity and incorporate the ufo1 gene to improve maize? This is the question Chopra is trying to answer, starting with this new study which found high sugar levels in the seeds and leaves of the mutant corn line.
What traits can be improved in corn with the help of the ufo1 gene?
“Certainly stress tolerance, but also probably seed development, which has implications for seed yield as well as biomass improvement,” said Chopra. “And we would like to develop a better type of plant that could grow in a denser crop, while still being more productive. And finally, we need to look at resilience and sustainability. Can we produce corn lines that get the same yield with less fertilizer input and less water requirement? “
Chopra began research on the Maize ufo1 gene due to its association with orange / red pigmentation in the mutant maize line. Famous corn geneticist Charles Burnham of the University of Minnesota identified this remarkable ufo1 mutant around 1960. Another well-known corn geneticist, Derek Styles, along with the University of Victoria, Canada, a student from Burnham, has then chose the name, which is for “unstable factor for orange”.
In 1997 Styles sent Chopra seeds for the mutant line. Since then, he has introgressed his genes into an inbred line maintained by his research group at Penn State. In 2019, Chopra solved the genetic mystery behind ufo1.
However, it turns out that the gene controls many characteristics of the plant beyond pigmentation. Still, ufo1 is just a gene, and it doesn’t work on its own in the maize genome, Chopra noted.
There are over 30,000 genes in the corn plant, so it is important to learn how ufo1 interacts with other genes before plant breeders can use it in the breeding of a new type of crop, a he added. “In order to move on to the breeding aspect, we first need to learn how this gene actually works,” Chopra said. “We need to learn how it associates with proteins, and learning about these protein interactions will be the focus of future research.”
But so far, this study has revealed how the accumulation of sugars in corn seeds is altered in the presence or absence of the ufo1 gene, according to Debamalya Chatterjee, a doctoral student in agronomy, who led the research.
“Later, we could use this knowledge of the ufo1 gene in breeding, to make better crosses that make hybrids more resilient and more productive, where the sugars and starches are in balance,” he said.
The researchers took a step in this direction today (May 3) when they published their findings in Plant physiology, reporting that the mutant maize ufo1 gene affects cell differentiation, influences the accumulation of carbohydrates and hormones in the plant and modulates the expression patterns of essential genes involved in maize seed development.
All of the plant materials analyzed in the study were grown during the summers of 2016-2020 at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Rock Springs and in greenhouses and plant growth chambers on the campus of Penn State’s University. Park. Inbreeding and genetic stocks were obtained from the Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center operated by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The National Science Foundation and an International Fellowship from the Indian Agricultural Research Council supported this work.
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Material provided by Penn State. Original written by Jeff Mulhollem. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.