Biochemical and transcriptomic analysis of maize diversity to elucidate drivers of leaf carbon isotope composition

Allison R. Kolbe, Anthony J. Studer, Asaph B. Cousins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Carbon isotope discrimination is used to study CO2 diffusion, substrate availability for photosynthesis, and leaf biochemistry, but the intraspecific drivers of leaf carbon isotope composition (δ13C) in C4 species are not well understood. In this study, the role of photosynthetic enzymes and post-photosynthetic fractionation on δ13C (‰) was explored across diverse maize inbred lines. A significant 1.3‰ difference in δ13C was observed between lines but δ13C did not correlate with in vitro leaf carbonic anhydrase (CA), phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC), or ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) activity. RNA-sequencing was used to identify potential differences in post-photosynthetic metabolism that would influence δ13C however, no correlations were identified that would indicate significant differences in post-photosynthetic fractionation between lines. Variation in δ13C has been observed between C4 subtypes, but differential expression of NADP-ME and PEP-CK pathways within these lines did not correlate with δ13C. However, co-expression network analysis provided novel evidence for isoforms of C4 enzymes and putative transporters. Together, these data indicate that diversity in maize δ13C cannot be fully explained by variation in CA, PEPC, or Rubisco activity or gene expression. The findings further emphasise the need for future work exploring the influence of stomatal sensitivity and mesophyll conductance on δ13C in maize.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-500
Number of pages12
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018


  • C photosynthesis
  • RNA-seq
  • Zea mays
  • leaf carbon isotope composition
  • photosynthetic enzymes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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