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Characterization of biosynthetic pathways for the production of the volatile homoterpenes DMNT and TMTT in Zea mays

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Plant volatiles not only have multiple defense functions against herbivores, fungi, and bacteria, but also have been implicated in signaling within the plant and towards other organisms. Elucidating the function of individual plant volatiles will require more knowledge of their biosynthesis and regulation in response to external stimuli. By exploiting the variation of herbivore-induced volatiles among 26 maize (Zea mays) inbred lines, we conducted a nested association mapping (NAM) and genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify a set of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for investigating the pathways of volatile terpene production. The most significant identified QTL affects the emission of (E)-nerolidol, linalool, and the two homoterpenes, 3,8-dimethyl-1,4,7-nonatriene (DMNT), and (E,E)-4,8,12-trimethyltrideca-1,3,7,11-tetraene (TMTT). GWAS associated a single nucleotide polymorphism in the promoter of the gene encoding the terpene synthase TPS2 with this QTL. Biochemical characterization of TPS2 verified that this plastid-localized enzyme forms linalool, (E)-nerolidol, and (E,E)-geranyllinalool. The subsequent conversion of (E)-nerolidol into DMNT maps to a P450 monooxygenase, CYP92C5, which is capable of converting nerolidol into DMNT by oxidative degradation. A QTL influencing TMTT accumulation corresponds to a similar monooxygenase, CYP92C6, which is specific for the conversion of (E,E)-geranyllinalool to TMTT. The DMNT biosynthetic pathway and both monooxygenases are distinct from those previously characterized for DMNT and TMTT synthesis in Arabidopsis, suggesting independent evolution of these enzymatic activities.

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