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Plant J. 1995 Sep;8(3):359-68.

Determinants of the high-methionine trait in wild and exotic germplasm may have escaped selection during early cultivation of maize.

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Waksman Institute, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, Piscataway 08855-0759, USA.


The 18 kDa high-methionine delta-class zein gene from maize has been cloned, and its regulation, structure, and map position studied. These studies have shown that (i) zein genes may also contain tryptophan and lysine codons, (ii) the 18 kDa and the related 10 kDa zein gene are coordinately regulated, but their products accumulate to different levels in a genotype-dependent manner, (iii) the duplication of delta-zein genes probably involved unequal crossing over, (iv) no copy correction in either direction has occurred from teosinte to modern corn, and (v) the duplication of of the 18 kDa zein gene probably occurred before the tetraploidization of a progenitor chromosome. The work shows that important nutritional quality determinants like the high-methionine seed proteins are abundant in several exotic and wild corn varieties and low in most of the inbreds screened. The lack of a selectable phenotype for such quality traits during initial domestication and breeding of corn would have eliminated cis and trans regulatory determinants from the germplasm used in modern corn breeding. Examples of the high-methionine delta-class zeins shown here may be generally applicable in explaining the low nutritional quality of most present-day corn grown.

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