Genetic studies regarding the control of seed pigmentation of an ancient European pointed maize (Zea mays L.) rich in phlobaphenes: the “Nero Spinoso” from the Camonica valley
Several preclinical studies have suggested that the regular consumption of flavonoid-rich foods is associated to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. For this reason, in the last years a renewed interest for the ancient landraces rich in flavonoids or other bioactive molecules is growing. Preservation and valorisation of these ancient landraces is very important, not only for economic considerations regarding the farmers within the small rural communities, where the particular maize germplasm has been developed, but also from a scientific point of view. In this work we characterized the ancient cultivar named “Nero Spinoso” from the Camonica valley, the biggest valley in the north-west region of Lombardy (Italy). The peculiarity of this landrace is the colour and the pointed shape of the kernels. We showed after spectrophotometric and TLC analysis that this variety accumulates high amounts of phlobaphenes (320 A510/100 g flour). Genetic data demonstrate that phlobaphene pigmentation is under the control of a monogenic dominant gene. Further mapping and sequencing data showed that the pigmentation is driven by the presence of a strong allele of Pericarp 1 (P1) gene, a transcription factor belonging to the myb transcription factor gene family. The “Nero Spinoso” variety represents an ancient landrace that could be considered a real functional food and a useful tool in future breeding programmes.