Characterization of the Maize Chitinase Genes and Their Effect on Aspergillus flavus and Aflatoxin Accumulation Resistance

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 19;10(6):e0126185. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126185. eCollection 2015.


Maize (Zea mays L.) is a crop of global importance, but prone to contamination by aflatoxins produced by fungi in the genus Aspergillus. The development of resistant germplasm and the identification of genes contributing to resistance would aid in the reduction of the problem with a minimal need for intervention by farmers. Chitinolytic enzymes respond to attack by potential pathogens and have been demonstrated to increase insect and fungal resistance in plants. Here, all chitinase genes in the maize genome were characterized via sequence diversity and expression patterns. Recent evolution within this gene family was noted. Markers from within each gene were developed and used to map the phenotypic effect on resistance of each gene in up to four QTL mapping populations and one association panel. Seven chitinase genes were identified that had alleles associated with increased resistance to aflatoxin accumulation and A. flavus infection in field grown maize. The chitinase in bin 1.05 identified a new and highly significant QTL, while chitinase genes in bins 2.04 and 5.03 fell directly beneath the peaks of previously published QTL. The expression patterns of these genes corroborate possible grain resistance mechanisms. Markers from within the gene sequences or very closely linked to them are presented to aid in the use of marker assisted selection to improve this trait.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxins / metabolism*
  • Aspergillus flavus / metabolism*
  • Chitinases / genetics*
  • Chitinases / metabolism
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Computational Biology
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Variation
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Zea mays / genetics*
  • Zea mays / metabolism*
  • Zea mays / microbiology


  • Aflatoxins
  • Chitinases