Evidence for maternal control of seed size in maize from phenotypic and transcriptional analysis

Xia Zhang, Candice N. Hirsch, Rajandeep S. Sekhon, Natalia De Leon, Shawn M. Kaeppler

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32 Scopus citations


Seed size is an important component of grain yield and a key determinant trait for crop domestication. The Krug Yellow Dent long-term selection experiment for large and small seed provides a valuable resource to dissect genetic and phenotypic changes affecting seed size within a common genetic background. In this study, inbred lines derived from Krug Large Seed (KLS) and Krug Small Seed (KSS) populations and reciprocal F1 crosses were used to investigate developmental and molecular mechanisms governing seed size. Seed morphological characteristics showed striking differences between KLS and KSS inbred lines, and the reciprocal cross experiment revealed a strong maternal influence on both seed weight and seed size. Quantification of endosperm area, starchy endosperm cell size, and kernel dry mass accumulation indicated a positive correlation between seed size, endosperm cell number, and grain filling rate, and patterns of grain filling in reciprocal crosses mirrored that of the maternal parent. Consistent with the maternal contribution to seed weight, transcriptome profiling of reciprocal F1 hybrids showed substantial similarities to the maternal parent. A set of differentially expressed genes between KLS and KSS inbreds were found, which fell into a broad number of functional categories including DNA methylation, nucleosome assembly, and heat stress response. In addition, gene co-expression network analysis of parental inbreds and reciprocal F1 hybrids identified co-expression modules enriched in ovule development and DNA methylation, implicating these two processes in seed size determination. These results expand our understanding of seed size regulation and help to uncover the developmental and molecular basis underlying maternal control of seed size in maize.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1907-1917
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of experimental botany
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology.


  • Endosperm
  • gene expression
  • maize
  • maternal effect
  • seed development
  • seed size


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