Analysis of Global Gene Expression in Maize (Zea mays) Vegetative and Reproductive Tissues That Differ in Accumulation of Starch and Sucrose
Carbon allocation between vegetative and reproductive tissues impacts cereal grain production. Despite great agricultural importance, sink–source relationships have not been fully characterized at the early reproductive stages in maize. Here, we quantify the accumulation of non-structural carbohydrates and patterns of gene expression in the top internode of the stem and the female inflorescence of maize at the onset of grain filling (reproductive stage R1). Top internode stem and female inflorescence tissues of the Puma maize inbred line were collected at reproductive stage R1 (without pollination) and non-structural carbohydrates were quantified by spectrophotometry. The female inflorescence accumulated starch at higher levels than the top internode of the stem. Global mRNA transcript levels were then evaluated in both tissues by RNA sequencing. Gene expression analysis identified 491 genes differentially expressed between the female inflorescence and the top stem internode. Gene ontology classification of differentially expressed genes showed enrichment for sucrose synthesis, the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis, and transmembrane transporters. Our results suggest that sugar transporters play a key role in sugar partitioning in the maize stem and reveal previously uncharacterized differences between the female inflorescence and the top internode of the stem at early reproductive stages.