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Open Access Research article

Functional genomic analysis of constitutive and inducible defense responses to Fusarium verticillioides infection in maize genotypes with contrasting ear rot resistance

Alessandra Lanubile1, Alberto Ferrarini2, Valentina Maschietto1, Massimo Delledonne2, Adriano Marocco1* and Diana Bellin2

Author Affiliations

1 Istituto di Agronomia, Genetica e Coltivazioni erbacee, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Via Emilia Parmense 84, 29122 Piacenza, Italy

2 Dipartimento di Biotecnologie, Università degli Studi di Verona, Strada Le Grazie 15, 37134 Verona, Italy

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:710  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-710

Published: 25 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Fusarium verticillioides causes ear rot in maize (Zea mays L.) and accumulation of mycotoxins, that affect human and animal health. Currently, chemical and agronomic measures to control Fusarium ear rot are not very effective and selection of more resistant genotypes is a desirable strategy to reduce contaminations. A deeper knowledge of molecular events and genetic basis underlying Fusarium ear rot is necessary to speed up progress in breeding for resistance.

Results

A next-generation RNA-sequencing approach was used for the first time to study transcriptional changes associated with F. verticillioides inoculation in resistant CO441 and susceptible CO354 maize genotypes at 72 hours post inoculation. More than 100 million sequence reads were generated for inoculated and uninoculated control plants and analyzed to measure gene expression levels. Comparison of expression levels between inoculated vs. uninoculated and resistant vs. susceptible transcriptomes revealed a total number of 6,951 differentially expressed genes. Differences in basal gene expression were observed in the uninoculated samples. CO441 genotype showed a higher level of expression of genes distributed over all functional classes, in particular those related to secondary metabolism category. After F. verticillioides inoculation, a similar response was observed in both genotypes, although the magnitude of induction was much greater in the resistant genotype. This response included higher activation of genes involved in pathogen perception, signaling and defense, including WRKY transcription factors and jasmonate/ethylene mediated defense responses. Interestingly, strong differences in expression between the two genotypes were observed in secondary metabolism category: pathways related to shikimate, lignin, flavonoid and terpenoid biosynthesis were strongly represented and induced in the CO441 genotype, indicating that selection to enhance these traits is an additional strategy for improving resistance against F. verticillioides infection.

Conclusions

The work demonstrates that the global transcriptional analysis provided an exhaustive view of genes involved in pathogen recognition and signaling, and controlling activities of different TFs, phytohormones and secondary metabolites, that contribute to host resistance against F. verticillioides. This work provides an important source of markers for development of disease resistance maize genotypes and may have relevance to study other pathosystems involving mycotoxin-producing fungi.

Keywords:
RNA-Seq analysis; Fusarium ear rot; Constitutive defense; Secondary metabolism; Candidate genes; Zea mays