Plant Science Innovation, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 12810–12815, July 20, 2010, vol. 107 no. 29. Copyright National Academy of Sciences USA. Used by permission.


Essential amino acids like lysine and tryptophan are deficient in corn meal because of the abundance of zein storage proteins that lack these amino acids. A naturalmutant, opaque 2 (o2) causes reduction of zeins,anincreaseofnonzeinproteins,andas a consequence, adoubling of lysine levels.However, o2’s soft inferior kernels precluded its commercial use. Breeders subsequently overcame kernel softness, selectingseveral quantitative loci (QTLs), called o2modifiers,without losing the high-lysine trait. These maize lines are known as “quality protein maize” (QPM). One of the QTLs is linked to the 27-kDa γ-zein locus on chromosome 7S. Moreover, QPM lines have 2- to 3-fold higher levels of the 27-kDa γ-zein, but the physiological significance of this increase is not known. Because the 27- and 16-kDa γ-zein genes are highly conserved in DNA sequence, we introduced a dominant RNAi transgene into a QPM line (CM105Mo2) to eliminate expression of them both. Elimination of γ-zeins disrupts endosperm modification by o2 modifiers, indicating their hypostatic action to γ-zeins. Abnormalities in protein body structure and their interaction with starch granules in the F1 with Mo2/+; o2/o2; γRNAi/+ genotype suggests that γ-zeins are essential for restoring protein body density and starch grain interaction in QPM. To eliminate pleiotropic effects caused by o2, the 22-kDa α-zein, γ-zein, and β-zein RNAis were stacked, resulting in protein bodies forming as honeycomb-like structures. We are unique in presenting clear demonstration that γ-zeins play a mechanistic role in QPM, providing a previously unexplored rationale for molecular breeding.