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The effect of altered dosage of a mutant allele of Teosinte branched 1 (tb1-ref) on the root system of modern maize

Amelie CM Gaudin, Sarah A McClymont, Sameh SM Soliman and Manish N Raizada*

Author Affiliations

Department of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

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BMC Genetics 2014, 15:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-15-23

Published: 14 February 2014



There was ancient human selection on the wild progenitor of modern maize, Balsas teosinte, for decreased shoot branching (tillering), in order to allow more nutrients to be diverted to grain. Mechanistically, the decline in shoot tillering has been associated with selection for increased expression of the major domestication gene Teosinte Branched 1 (Tb1) in shoot primordia. Therefore, TB1 has been defined as a repressor of shoot branching. It is known that plants respond to changes in shoot size by compensatory changes in root growth and architecture. However, it has not been reported whether altered TB1 expression affects any plant traits below ground. Previously, changes in dosage of a well-studied mutant allele of Tb1 in modern maize, called tb1-ref, from one to two copies, was shown to increase tillering. As a result, plants with two copies of the tb1-ref allele have a larger shoot biomass than heterozygotes. Here we used aeroponics to phenotype the effects of tb1-ref copy number on maize roots at macro-, meso- and micro scales of development.


An increase in the tb1-ref copy number from one to two copies resulted in: (1) an increase in crown root number due to the cumulative initiation of crown roots from successive tillers; (2) higher density of first and second order lateral roots; and (3) reduced average lateral root length. The resulting increase in root system biomass in homozygous tb1-ref mutants balanced the increase in shoot biomass caused by enhanced tillering. These changes caused homozygous tb1-ref mutants of modern maize to more closely resemble its ancestor Balsas teosinte below ground.


We conclude that a decrease in TB1 function in maize results in a larger root system, due to an increase in the number of crown roots and lateral roots. Given that decreased TB1 expression results in a more highly branched and larger shoot, the impact of TB1 below ground may be direct or indirect. We discuss the potential implications of these findings for whole plant coordination of biomass accumulation and maize domestication.

Maize; Zea; Domestication; Teosinte; Teosinte branched 1; Tb1; Tiller; Root; Architecture; Lateral root; Crown root