A new opaque variant of maize by a single dominant RNA-interference-inducing transgene

Genetics. 2003 Sep;165(1):387-97.


In maize, alpha-zeins, the main protein components of seed stores, are major determinants of nutritional imbalance when maize is used as the sole food source. Mutations like opaque-2 (o2) are used in breeding varieties with improved nutritional quality. However, o2 works in a recessive fashion by affecting the expression of a subset of 22-kD alpha-zeins, as well as additional endosperm gene functions. Thus, we sought a dominant mutation that could suppress the storage protein genes without interrupting O2 synthesis. We found that maize transformed with RNA interference (RNAi) constructs derived from a 22-kD zein gene could produce a dominant opaque phenotype. This phenotype segregates in a normal Mendelian fashion and eliminates 22-kD zeins without affecting the accumulation of other zein proteins. A system for regulated transgene expression generating antisense RNA also reduced the expression of 22-kD zein genes, but failed to give an opaque phenotype. Therefore, it appears that small interfering RNAs not only may play an important regulatory role during plant development, but also are effective genetic tools for dissecting the function of gene families. Since the dominant phenotype is also correlated with increased lysine content, the new mutant illustrates an approach for creating more nutritious crop plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Genes, Dominant*
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • RNA Interference*
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Transgenes*
  • Zea mays / genetics*
  • Zea mays / metabolism
  • Zein / genetics
  • Zein / metabolism


  • Zein