Open Access Research article

Identification and characterization of the zinc-regulated transporters, iron-regulated transporter-like protein (ZIP) gene family in maize

Suzhen Li12, Xiaojin Zhou2, Yaqun Huang1, Liying Zhu1, Shaojun Zhang2, Yongfeng Zhao1, Jinjie Guo1, Jingtang Chen1* and Rumei Chen2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Agronomy, Agricultural University of Hebei/Hebei Sub-center of Chinese National Maize Improvement Center, Baoding 071001, China

2 Department of Crop Genomics & Genetic Improvement, Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, China

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:114  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-114

Published: 8 August 2013



Zinc (Zn) and iron (Fe) are essential micronutrients for plant growth and development, their deficiency or excess severely impaired physiological and biochemical reactions of plants. Therefore, a tightly controlled zinc and iron uptake and homeostasis network has been evolved in plants. The Zinc-regulated transporters, Iron-regulated transporter-like Proteins (ZIP) are capable of uptaking and transporting divalent metal ion and are suggested to play critical roles in balancing metal uptake and homeostasis, though a detailed analysis of ZIP gene family in maize is still lacking.


Nine ZIP-coding genes were identified in maize genome. It was revealed that the ZmZIP proteins share a conserved transmembrane domain and a variable region between TM-3 and TM-4. Transiently expression in onion epidermal cells revealed that all ZmZIP proteins were localized to the endoplasmic reticulum and plasma membrane. The yeast complementation analysis was performed to test the Zn or Fe transporter activity of ZmZIP proteins. Expression analysis showed that the ZmIRT1 transcripts were dramatically induced in response to Zn- and Fe-deficiency, though the expression profiles of other ZmZIP changed variously. The expression patterns of ZmZIP genes were observed in different stages of embryo and endosperm development. The accumulations of ZmIRT1 and ZmZIP6 were increased in the late developmental stages of embryo, while ZmZIP4 was up-regulated during the early development of embryo. In addition, the expression of ZmZIP5 was dramatically induced associated with middle stage development of embryo and endosperm.


These results suggest that ZmZIP genes encode functional Zn or Fe transporters that may be responsible for the uptake, translocation, detoxification and storage of divalent metal ion in plant cells. The various expression patterns of ZmZIP genes in embryo and endosperm indicates that they may be essential for ion translocation and storage during differential stages of embryo and endosperm development. The present study provides new insights into the evolutionary relationship and putative functional divergence of the ZmZIP gene family during the growth and development of maize.

Embryo; Endosperm; Expression profiling; Zinc; Iron; Zinc-regulated transporters; Iron-regulated transporter-like protein (ZIP); Subcellular localization; Yeast complementation; Maize