Phenolic compounds are among the most diverse and widespread of specialized plant compounds and underly many important agronomic traits. Our comprehensive analysis of the maize genome unraveled new aspects of the genes involved in phenylpropanoid, monolignol, and flavonoid production in this important crop. Remarkably, just 19 genes accounted for 70 % of the overall mRNA accumulation of these genes across 95 tissues, indicating that these are the main contributors to the flux of phenolic metabolites. Eighty genes with intermediate to low expression play minor and more specialized roles. Remaining genes are likely undergoing loss of function or are expressed in limited cell types. Phylogenetic and expression analyses revealed which members of gene families governing metabolic entry and branch points exhibit duplication, subfunctionalization, or loss of function. Co-expression analysis applied to genes in sequential biosynthetic steps revealed that certain isoforms are highly co-expressed and are candidates for metabolic complexes that ensure metabolite delivery to correct cellular compartments. Co-expression of biosynthesis genes with transcription factors discovered connections that provided candidate components for regulatory modules governing this pathway. Our study provides a comprehensive analysis of maize phenylpropanoid related genes, identifies major pathway contributors, and novel candidate enzymatic and regulatory modules of the metabolic network.
Keywords: Co-expression; Enzymatic module; Maize; Phenylpropanoid; Regulatory module; Regulomics.
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