Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Maize SBP-box transcription factors unbranched2 and unbranched3 affect yield traits by regulating the rate of lateral primordia initiation.

PMID 25512525


The separation of male and female flowers in maize provides the potential for independent regulation of traits that affect crop productivity. For example, tassel branch number controls pollen abundance and length of shedding time, whereas ear row number directly affects kernel yield. Mutations in duplicate SBP-box transcription factor genes unbranched2 (ub2) and ub3 affect both of these yield traits. Double mutants display a decrease in tassel branch number and an increase in ear row number, both of which are enhanced by loss of a related gene called tasselsheath4 (tsh4). Furthermore, triple mutants have more tillers and leaves-phenotypes seen in Corngrass1 mutants that result from widespread repression of SBP-box genes. Immunolocalization of UB2 and UB3 proteins revealed accumulation throughout the meristem but absence from the central domain of the meristem where cells regenerate. Thus, ub2, ub3, and tsh4 function as redundant factors that limit the rate of cell differentiation to the lateral domains of meristems. When these genes are mutated, cells are allocated to lateral primordia at a higher rate, causing a net loss of cells from the central domain and premature termination of the inflorescence. The ub3 locus is tightly linked to quantitative trait loci (QTL) for ear row number and tassel branch number in both the nested association mapping (NAM) and intermated B73 by Mo17 (IBM) populations of maize recombinant inbreds, indicating that this gene may be agronomically important. Analysis of ear and tassel QTL across biparental families suggests that multiple mutations in ub3 independently regulate male and female inflorescence development.