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Maize host requirements for Ustilago maydis tumor induction

by Virginia Walbot, David S. Skibbe
Sexual Plant Reproduction ()
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The biotrophic pathogen Ustilago maydis causes tumors by redirecting vegetative and floral development in maize (Zea mays L.). After fungal injection into immature tassels, tumors were found in all floral organs, with a progression of organ susceptibility that mirrors the sequential location of foci of cell division in developing spikelets. There is sharp demarcation between tumor-forming zones and areas with normal spikelet maturation and pollen shed; within and immediately adjacent to the tumor zone, developing anthers often emerge precociously and exhibit a range of developmental defects suggesting that U. maydis signals and host responses are restricted spatially. Male-sterile maize mutants with defects in anther cell division patterns and cell fate acquisition prior to meiosis formed normal adult leaf tumors, but failed to form anther tumors. Methyl jasmonate and brassinosteroid phenocopied these early-acting anther developmental mutants by generating sterile zones within tassels that never formed tumors. Although auxin, cytokinin, abscisic acid and gibberellin did not impede tassel development, the Dwarf8 mutant defective in gibberellin signaling lacked tassel tumors; the anther ear1 mutant reduced in gibberellin content formed normal tumors; and Knotted1, in which there is excessive growth of leaf tissue, formed much larger vegetative and tassel tumors. We propose the hypothesis that host growth potential and tissue identity modulate the ability of U. maydis to redirect differentiation and induce tumors.

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