Original Paper

Theoretical and Applied Genetics

, Volume 119, Issue 6, pp 1129-1142

First online:

Wide variability in kernel composition, seed characteristics, and zein profiles among diverse maize inbreds, landraces, and teosinte

  • Sherry A. Flint-GarciaAffiliated withUSDA-ARS, Plant Genetics Research UnitDivision of Plant Sciences, University of MissouriUSDA-ARS, University of Missouri Email author 
  • , Anastasia L. BodnarAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Iowa State University
  • , M. Paul ScottAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Iowa State UniversityUSDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit

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All crop species have been domesticated from their wild relatives, and geneticists are just now beginning to understand the consequences of artificial (human) selection on agronomic traits that are relevant today. The primary consequence is a basal loss of diversity across the genome, and an additional reduction in diversity for genes underlying traits targeted by selection. An understanding of attributes of the wild relatives may provide insight into target traits and valuable allelic variants for modern agriculture. This is especially true for maize (Zea mays ssp. mays), where its wild ancestor, teosinte (Z. mays ssp. parviglumis), is so strikingly different than modern maize. One obvious target of selection is the size and composition of the kernel. We evaluated kernel characteristics, kernel composition, and zein profiles for a diverse set of modern inbred lines, teosinte accessions, and landraces, the intermediate between inbreds and teosinte. We found that teosinte has very small seeds, but twice the protein content of landraces and inbred lines. Teosinte has a higher average alpha zein content (nearly 89% of total zeins as compared to 72% for inbred lines and 76% for landraces), and there are many novel alcohol-soluble proteins in teosinte relative to the other two germplasm groups. Nearly every zein protein varied in abundance among the germplasm groups, especially the methionine-rich delta zein protein, and the gamma zeins. Teosinte and landraces harbor phenotypic variation that will facilitate genetic dissection of kernel traits and grain quality, ultimately leading to improvement via traditional plant breeding and/or genetic engineering.