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Nat Biotechnol. 2015 Aug;33(8):862-9.

Expression of trehalose-6-phosphate phosphatase in maize ears improves yield in well-watered and drought conditions.


Maize, the highest-yielding cereal crop worldwide, is particularly susceptible to drought during its 2- to 3-week flowering period. Many genetic engineering strategies for drought tolerance impinge on plant development, reduce maximum yield potential or do not translate from laboratory conditions to the field. We overexpressed a gene encoding a rice trehalose-6-phosphate phosphatase (TPP) in developing maize ears using a floral promoter. This reduced the concentration of trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P), a sugar signal that regulates growth and development, and increased the concentration of sucrose in ear spikelets. Overexpression of TPP increased both kernel set and harvest index. Field data at several sites and over multiple seasons showed that the engineered trait improved yields from 9% to 49% under non-drought or mild drought conditions, and from 31% to 123% under more severe drought conditions, relative to yields from nontransgenic controls.

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