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Plant Physiol. 2002 Dec;130(4):2049-60.

The maize gene terpene synthase 1 encodes a sesquiterpene synthase catalyzing the formation of (E)-beta-farnesene, (E)-nerolidol, and (E,E)-farnesol after herbivore damage.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology, Winzerlaer Strasse 10, D-07745 Jena, Germany.


Maize (Zea mays) emits a mixture of volatile compounds upon attack by the Egyptian cotton leafworm (Spodoptera littoralis). These substances, primarily mono- and sesquiterpenes, are used by parasitic wasps to locate the lepidopteran larvae, which are their natural hosts. This interaction among plant, lepidopteran larvae, and hymenopteran parasitoids benefits the plant and has been termed indirect defense. The committed step in the biosynthesis of the different skeletal types of mono- and sesquiterpenes is catalyzed by terpene synthases, a class of enzymes that forms a large variety of mono- and sesquiterpene products from prenyl diphosphate precursors. We isolated a terpene synthase gene, terpene synthase 1 (tps1), from maize that exhibits only a low degree of sequence identity to previously identified terpene synthases. Upon expression in a bacterial system, the encoded enzyme produced the acyclic sesquiterpenes, (E)-beta-farnesene, (E,E)-farnesol, and (3R)-(E)-nerolidol, the last an intermediate in the formation of (3E)-4,8-dimethyl-1,3,7-nonatriene. Both (E)-beta-farnesene and (3E)-4,8-dimethyl-1,3,7-nonatriene are prominent compounds of the maize volatile blend that is emitted after herbivore damage. The biochemical characteristics of the encoded enzyme are similar to those of terpene synthases from both gymnosperms and dicotyledonous angiosperms, suggesting that catalysis involves a similar electrophilic reaction mechanism. The transcript level of tps1 in the maize cv B73 was elevated after herbivory, mechanical damage, and treatment with elicitors. In contrast, the increase in the transcript level of the tps1 gene or gene homolog in the maize cv Delprim after herbivory was less pronounced, suggesting that the regulation of terpene synthase expression may vary among maize varieties.

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