Low levels of the essential amino acids lysine (Lys) and methionine (Met) in a maize-based diet are a major cost to feed and food. Lys deficiency is due to the abundance of Lys-poor proteins in maize kernels. Although a maize mutant, opaque-2 (o2), has sufficient levels of Lys, its soft kernel renders it unfit for storage and transportation. Breeders overcame this problem by selecting quantitative trait loci (QTL) restoring kernel hardness in the presence of o2, a variety called Quality Protein Maize (QPM). Although at least one QTL acts by enhancing the expression of the γ-zein proteins, we could surprisingly achieve rebalancing of the Lys content and a vitreous kernel phenotype by targeting suppression of γ-zeins without the o2 mutant. Reduced levels of γ-zeins were achieved with RNA interference (RNAi). Another transgenic event, PE5 expresses the Escherichia coli enzyme 3′-phosphoadenosine-5′-phosphosulfate reductase involved in sulfate assimilation, specifically in leaves. The stacked transgenic events produce a vitreous endosperm, which has higher Lys level than the classical opaque W64Ao2 variant. Moreover, due to the increased sulfate reduction in the leaf, Met level is elevated in the seed. Such a combination of transgenes produces hybrid seeds superior to classical QPMs that would neither require a costly feed mix nor synthetic Met supplementation, potentially creating a novel and cost-effective means for improving maize nutritional quality.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- High-lysine maize
- High-methionine maize
- Quality protein maize