Selinene volatiles are essential precursors for maize defense promoting fungal pathogen resistance

Yezhang Ding, Alisa Huffaker, Tobias G. Köllner, Philipp Weckwerth, Christelle A.M. Robert, Joseph L. Spencer, Alexander E. Lipka, Eric A. Schmelz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To ensure food security, maize (Zea mays) is a model crop for understanding useful traits underlying stress resistance. In contrast to foliar biochemicals, root defenses limiting the spread of disease remain poorly described. To better understand belowground defenses in the field, we performed root metabolomic profiling and uncovered unexpectedly high levels of the sesquiterpene volatile β-selinene and the corresponding nonvolatile antibiotic derivative β-costic acid. The application of metabolite-based quantitative trait locus mapping using biparental populations, genome-wide association studies, and nearisogenic lines enabled the identification of terpene synthase21 (ZmTps21) on chromosome 9 as a β-costic acid pathway candidate gene. Numerous closely examined b-costic acid-deficient inbred lines were found to harbor Zmtps21 pseudogenes lacking conserved motifs required for farnesyl diphosphate cyclase activity. For biochemical validation, a full-length ZmTps21 was cloned, heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli, and demonstrated to cyclize farnesyl diphosphate, yielding β-selinene as the dominant product. Consistent with microbial defense pathways, ZmTps21 transcripts strongly accumulate following fungal elicitation. Challenged field roots containing functional ZmTps21 alleles displayed b-costic acid levels over 100 µg g-1 fresh weight, greatly exceeding in vitro concentrations required to inhibit the growth of five different fungal pathogens and rootworm larvae (Diabrotica balteata). In vivo disease resistance assays, using ZmTps21 and Zmtps21 near-isogenic lines, further support the endogenous antifungal role of selinene-derived metabolites. Involved in the biosynthesis of nonvolatile antibiotics, ZmTps21 exists as a useful gene for germplasm improvement programs targeting optimized biotic stress resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1455-1468
Number of pages14
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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