Background: Maize is one of the most important crops in the world. With the exponentially increasing population and the need for ever increased food and feed production, an increased yield of maize grain (as well as rice, wheat and other grains) will be critical. Maize grain development is understood from the perspective of morphology, hormone responses, and storage reserve accumulation. This includes various studies on gene expression during embryo development and maturation but a global study of gene expression of the embryo has not been possible until recently. Transcriptome analysis is a powerful new tool that can be used to understand the genetic basis of embryo maturation.
Results: We undertook a transcriptomic analysis of normal maturing embryos at 15, 21 and 27 days after pollination (DAP), of one elite maize germplasm line that was utilized in crosses to transgenic plants. More than 19,000 genes were analyzed by this method and the challenge was to select subsets of genes that are vitally important to embryo development and maturation for the initial analysis. We describe the changes in expression for genes relating to primary metabolic pathways, DNA synthesis, late embryogenesis proteins and embryo storage proteins, shown through transcriptome analysis and confirmed levels of transcription for some genes in the transcriptome using qRT-PCR.
Conclusions: Numerous genes involved in embryo maturation have been identified, many of which show changes in expression level during the progression from 15 to 27 DAP. An expected array of genes involved in primary metabolism was identified. Moreover, more than 30% of transcripts represented un-annotated genes, leaving many functions to be discovered. Of particular interest are the storage protein genes, globulin-1, globulin-2 and an unidentified cupin family gene. When expressing foreign proteins in maize, the globulin-1 promoter is most often used, but this cupin family gene has much higher expression and may be a better candidate for foreign gene expression in maize embryos. Results such as these allow identification of candidate genes and promoters that may not otherwise be available for use. mRNA seq data archived in NCBI SRA; Accession number: ACC=SRA060791 subid=108584.