Theoretical and Applied Genetics

, Volume 119, Issue 6, pp 1129–1142 | Cite as

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

  • Sherry A. Flint-Garcia
  • Anastasia L. Bodnar
  • M. Paul Scott
Original Paper


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.

Supplementary material

122_2009_1115_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (141 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 1. Zein profile of teosinte, landraces, and inbred lines (JPEG 141 kb)
122_2009_1115_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (268 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 2. Detailed view of the alpha zein region. Arrows indicate prominent peaks that are conserved in the inbred and landrace groups (JPEG 268 kb)
122_2009_1115_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (140 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 3. Detailed view of the gamma zein region (JPEG 139 kb)
122_2009_1115_MOESM4_ESM.jpg (110 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 4. Detailed view of the delta zein region (JPEG 110 kb)


  1. AOAC (2006) Official methods of analysis of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, 18th edn. AOAC INTERNATIONAL, GaithersburgGoogle Scholar
  2. Bjarnason M, Pollmer WG (1972) The maize germ: its role as a contributing factor to protein quantity and quality. Z Pflanzenzuchtg 68:83–89Google Scholar
  3. Briggs WH, McMullen MD, Gaut BS, Doebley J (2007) Linkage mapping of domestication loci in a large maize teosinte backcross resource. Genetics 177:1915–1928PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bulant C, Gallais A (1998) Xenia effects in maize with normal endosperm: I. Importance and stability. Crop Sci 38:1517–1525Google Scholar
  5. Bulant C, Gallais A, Matthys-Rochon E, Prioul JL (2000) Xenia effects in maize with normal endosperm: II. Kernel growth and enzyme activities during grain filling. Crop Sci 40:182–189Google Scholar
  6. Clark R, Linton E, Messing J, Doebley J (2004) Pattern of diversity in the genomic region near the maize domestication gene tb1. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:700–707PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coleman CE, Herman EM, Takasaki K, Larkins BA (1996) The maize gamma-zein sequesters alpha-zein and stabilizes its accumulation in protein bodies of transgenic tobacco endosperm. Plant Cell 8:2335–2345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Curtis JJ, Brunson AM, Hubbard JE, Earle FR (1956) Effect of the pollen parent on oil content of the corn kernel. Agron J 48:551–555Google Scholar
  9. Doebley J (2004) The genetics of maize evolution. Annu Rev Genet 38:37–59PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Doebley J, Stec A, Gustus C (1995) Teosinte branched1 and the origin of maize: evidence for epistasis and the evolution of dominance. Genetics 141:333–346PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Dorweiler J, Stec A, Kermicle J, Doebley J (1993) Teosinte glume architecture 1: a genetic locus controlling a key step in maize evolution. Science 262:233–235PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ducrocq S, Madur D, Veyrieras J-B, Camus-Kulandaivelu L, Kloiber-Maitz M, Presterl T, Ouzunova M, Manicacci D, Charcosset A (2008) Key impact of Vgt1 on flowering time adaptation in maize: evidence from association mapping and ecogeographical information. Genetics 178:2433–2437PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dudley JW (2007) From means to QTL: the Illinois long-term selection experiment as a case study in quantitative genetics. Crop Sci 47:S20–S31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Focke WO (1881) Die Pflanzen-Mischlinge. Ein Beitrag zur Biologie der GewächseGoogle Scholar
  15. Hamblin MT, Casa AM, Sun H, Murray SC, Paterson AH, Aquadro CF, Kresovich S (2006) Challenges of detecting directional selection after a bottleneck: lessons from Sorghum bicolor. Science 173:953–964Google Scholar
  16. Hopkins CG (1899) Improvement in the chemical composition of the corn kernel. Ill Agric Expt Sta Bul 55:205–240Google Scholar
  17. Huang S, Adams WR, Zhou Q, Malloy KP, Voyles DA, Anthony J, Kriz AL, Luethy MH (2004) Improving nutritional quality of maize proteins by expressing sense and antisense zein genes. J Agric Food Chem 52:1958–1964PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huang S, Kruger DE, Frizzi A, D’Ordine RL, Florida CA, Adams WR, Brown WE, Luethy MH (2005) High-lysine corn produced by the combination of enhanced lysine biosynthesis and reduced zein accumulation. Plant Biotechnol J 3:555–569PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hyten DL, Song Q, Zhu Y, Choi I-Y, Nelson RL, Costa JM, Specht JE, Shoemaker RC, Cregan PB (2006) Impacts of genetic bottlenecks on soybean genome diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:16666–16671PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaiser HF (1960) The application of electronic computers to factor analysis. Educ Psychol Meas 20:141–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lai J, Messing J (2002) Increasing maize seed methionine by mRNA stability. Plant J 30:395–402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Matsuoka Y, Vigouroux Y, Goodman MM, Sanchez GJ, Buckler E, Doebley J (2002) A single domestication for maize shown by multilocus microsatellite genotyping. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99:6080–6084PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McMullen MM, Kresovich S, Buckler ES, Holland JB, Sanchez Villeda H, Bradbury P, Li H, Sun Q, Bottoms C, Flint-Garcia S, Hanson M, Acharya C, Yates H, Mitchell SE, Browne C, Eller M, Guill K, Kroon D, Lepak N, Romero S, Salvo S, Peterson B, Jones E, Smith S, Brown P, Pressoir G, Oropeza Rosas M, Harjes C, Glaubitz JC, Goodman M, Ware D (2009) Genetic properties of the maize nested association mapping population (accepted)Google Scholar
  24. Melcher U, Fraij B (1980) Methionine-rich protein fraction prepared by cryoprecipitation from extracts of corn meal. J Agric Food Chem 28:1334–1336PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Paulis JW, Wall JS (1977) Comparison of the protein compositions of selected corns and their wild relatives, teosinte and Tripsacum. J Agric Food Chem 25:265–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Phillips RL, Suresh J, Olsen M, Krone T (2008) Registration of high-methionine versions of maize inbreds A632, B73, and Mo17. J Plant Regist 2:243–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pollak LM (2003) The history and success of the public-private project on germplasm enhancement of maize (GEM). Adv Agron 78:45–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pollmer WG, Eberhard D, Klein D (1978) Inheritance of protein and yield of grain and stover in maize. Crop Sci 18:757–759CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Prasanna BM, Vasal SK, Kassahun B, SN N (2001) Quality protein maize. Curr Sci 81:1308–1319Google Scholar
  30. Rossi V, Hartings H, Thompson RD, Motto M (2001) Genetic and molecular approaches for upgrading starch and protein fractions in maize kernels. Maydica 46:147–158Google Scholar
  31. SAS Institute Inc. (1999–2001) SAS® Proprietary Software Release 8.2, CaryGoogle Scholar
  32. Sodek L, Wilson CM (1971) Amino acid compositions of proteins isolated from normal, opaque-2, and floury-2 corn endosperms by a modified Osborne procedure. J Agric Food Chem 19:1144–1150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Song R, Messing J (2002) Contiguous genomic DNA sequence comprising the 19-kDa zein gene family from maize. Plant Physiol 130:1626–1635PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Song R, Messing J (2003) Gene expression of a gene family in maize based on noncollinear haplotypes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:9055–9060PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Song R, Llaca V, Linton E, Messing J (2001) Sequence, regulation, and evolution of the maize 22-kDa alpha zein gene family. Genome Res 11:1817–1825PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Swarup S, Timmermans MC, Chaudhuri S, Messing J (1995) Determinants of the high-methionine trait in wild and exotic germplasm may have escaped selection during early cultivation of maize. Plant J 8:359–368PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tang T, Lu J, Huang J, He J, McCouch SR, Shen Y, Kai Z, Purugganan MD, Shi S, Wu C-I (2006) Genomic variation in rice: genesis of highly polymorphic linkage blocks during domestication. PLoS Genet 2:e199PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thompson GA, Larkins BA (1989) Structural elements regulating zein gene expression. BioEssays 10:108–113PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thompson GA, Siemieniak DR, Sieu LC, Slightom JL, Larkins BA (1992) Sequence analysis of linked maize 22 kDa alpha-zein genes. Plant Mol Biol 18:827–833PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vasal SK (2000) High quality protein corn. In: Hallauer AR (ed) Specialty corns, 2nd edn. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  41. Wang RL, Stec A, Hey J, Lukens L, Doebley J (1999) The limits of selection during maize domestication. Nature 398:236–239PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang L, Xu C, Qu M, Zhang J (2008) Kernel amino acid composition and protein content of introgression lines from Zea mays ssp. mexicana into cultivated maize. J Cereal Sci 48:387–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Watson SA (2003) Description, development, structure, and composition of the corn kernel. In: White PJ, Johnson LA (eds) Corn: chemistry and technology, 2nd edn. American Association of Cereal Chemists, St. PaulGoogle Scholar
  44. Webber HJ (1900) Xenia, or the immediate effect of pollen, in maize. USDA Bull 22:1–44Google Scholar
  45. Whitt SR, Wilson LM, Tenaillon MI, Gaut BS, Buckler ES (2002) Genetic diversity and selection in the maize starch pathway. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 20:12959–12962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilson C (1991) Multiple zeins from maize endosperms characterized by reversed-phase high performance liquid chromatography. Plant Physiol 95:777–786PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson DR, Larkins BA (1984) Zein gene organization in maize and related grasses. J Mol Evol 20:330–340PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Woo Y-M, Hu DW-N, Larkins BA, Jung R (2001) Genomics analysis of genes expressed in maize endosperm identifies novel seed proteins and clarifies patterns of zein gene expression. Plant Cell 13:2297–2317PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wright SI, Vroh Bi I, Schroeder SG, Yamasaki M, Doebley JF, McMullen MD, Gaut BS (2005) The effects of artificial selection on the maize genome. Science 308:1310–1314PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Xiao J, Li J, Grandillo S, Ahn SN, Yuan L, Tanksley SD, McCouch SR (1998) Identification of trait-improving quantitative trait loci alleles from a wild rice relative, Oryza rufipogon. Genetics 150:899–909PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Buckler ES, Holland JB, Bradbury P, Acharya C, Brown P, Browne C, Ersoz E, Flint-Garcia S, Garcia A, Glaubitz JC, Goodman M, Harjes C, Guill K, Kroon D, Larsson S, Lepak N, Li H, Mitchell SE, Pressoir G, Peiffer J, Oropeza Rosas M, Rocheford T, Romay C, Romero S, Salvo S, Sanchez Villeda H, Sun Q, Tian F, Upadyayula N, Ware D, Yates H, Yu J, Zhang Z, Kresovich S, McMullen MM The genetic architecture of Maize flowering time (submitted)Google Scholar
  52. Yamasaki M, Tenaillon MI, Vroh Bi I, Schroeder SG, Sanchez-Villeda H, Doebley JF, Gaut BS, McMullen MD (2005) A large-scale screen for artificial selection in maize identifies candidate agronomic loci for domestication and crop improvement. Plant Cell 17:2859–2872PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yu J, Arbelbide M, Bernardo R (2005) Power of in silico QTL mapping from phenotypic, pedigree, and marker data in a hybrid breeding program. Theor Appl Genet 110:1061–1067PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Yu J, Holland JB, McMullen MD, Buckler ES (2008) Genetic design and statistical power of nested association mapping in maize. Genetics 178:539–551PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© US Government 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sherry A. Flint-Garcia
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Anastasia L. Bodnar
    • 3
  • M. Paul Scott
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.USDA-ARS, Plant Genetics Research UnitColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Division of Plant SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of AgronomyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research UnitAmesUSA
  5. 5.USDA-ARS, University of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations