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Metabolite profiling of maize grain: differentiation due to genetics and environment


A comparative metabolite profiling approach based on gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) was applied to investigate the impact of genetic background, growing location and season on the chemical composition of maize grain. The metabolite profiling protocol involved sub-fractionation of the metabolites and allowed the assessment of about 300 distinct analytes from different chemical classes (polar to lipophilic), of which 167 could be identified. A comparison, over three consecutive growing seasons, of the metabolite profiles of four maize cultivars which differed in their maturity classification, was carried out using principal component analysis (PCA). This revealed a strong separation of one cultivar in the first growing season, which could be explained by the immaturity of the kernels of this cultivar compared with others in the field trial. Further evaluations by pair-wise comparison using Student’s t-test and analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed that the growing season was the most prominent impact factor driving variation of the metabolite pool. An increased understanding of metabolic variation was achieved by analysis of a second sample set comprising one cultivar grown for 3 years at four locations. The applied GC/MS-based metabolite profiling demonstrated the natural variation in maize grain metabolite pools resulting from the interplay of environment, season, and genotype.

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This work was financially supported by the EU FP6 project SAFEFOODS (contract no. Food-CT-2004-506446, Promoting Food Safety through a New Integrated Risk Analysis Approach for Foods—SAFEFOODS). The technical assistance by Martina Denk is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Karl-Heinz Engel.

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Röhlig, R.M., Eder, J. & Engel, KH. Metabolite profiling of maize grain: differentiation due to genetics and environment. Metabolomics 5, 459 (2009).

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  • Metabolite profiling
  • Maize
  • Zea mays
  • GC/MS