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The maize tasselseed4 microRNA controls sex determination and meristem cell fate by targeting Tasselseed6/indeterminate spikelet1


In maize (Zea mays), sex determination occurs through abortion of female carpels in the tassel and arrest of male stamens in the ear. The Tasselseed6 (Ts6) and tasselseed4 (ts4) mutations permit carpel development in the tassel while increasing meristem branching, showing that sex determination and acquisition of meristem fate share a common pathway. We show that ts4 encodes a mir172 microRNA that targets APETALA2 floral homeotic transcription factors. Three lines of evidence suggest that indeterminate spikelet1 (ids1), an APETALA2 gene required for spikelet meristem determinacy, is a key target of ts4. First, loss of ids1 suppresses the ts4 sex determination and branching defects. Second, Ts6 mutants phenocopy ts4 and possess mutations in the microRNA binding site of ids1. Finally, IDS1 protein is expressed more broadly in ts4 mutants compared to wild type. Our results demonstrate that sexual identity in maize is acquired by limiting floral growth through negative regulation of the floral homeotic pathway.

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Figure 1: The ts4 mutant phenotype.
Figure 2: ts4 encodes a microRNA.
Figure 3: Expression of ts4.
Figure 4: Identification of ids1 as a target gene.
Figure 5: Immunolocalization of IDS1 in wild-type ears, tassels and ts4 tassels.

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The work was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grant DBI-0604923, by USDA-ARS Current Research Information System (CRIS) grant 5335-21000-018-00D to S.H. and by Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) grant 2004-35301-14507 to G.C. We thank D. Irvine for the use of the scanning electron microscopy facility; D. Hantz for greenhouse maintenance; T. Peterson for the gift of the ts4-TP allele; M. Sachs for determining the genealogy of ts4-ref; B. Thompson, C. Lunde and E. Bortiri for helpful comments on the manuscript and L. Bartling and K. Saeturn for technical assistance.

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R.M. contributed the ts4-mum1 allele, E.I. contributed the ts4-TP and ts4-A alleles and H.S. carried out BAC sequencing. G.C. designed this study and wrote the manuscript with help from S.H.

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Correspondence to George Chuck.

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Chuck, G., Meeley, R., Irish, E. et al. The maize tasselseed4 microRNA controls sex determination and meristem cell fate by targeting Tasselseed6/indeterminate spikelet1. Nat Genet 39, 1517–1521 (2007).

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