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A Maize Lectin-Like Protein with Antifungal Activity against Aspergillus flavus

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The filamentous fungus Aspergillus flavus causes an ear rot on maize and produces a mycotoxin (aflatoxin) in colonized maize kernels. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic to humans and animals upon ingestion. Aflatoxin contamination results in a large loss of profits and marketable yields for farmers each year. Several research groups have worked to pinpoint sources of resistance to A. flavus and the resulting aflatoxin contamination in maize. Some maize genotypes exhibit greater resistance than others. A proteomics approach has recently been used to identify endogenous maize proteins that may be associated with resistance to the fungus. Research has been conducted on cloning, expression, and partial characterization of one such protein, which has a sequence similar to that of cold-regulated proteins. The expressed protein, ZmCORp, exhibited lectin-like hemagglutination activity against fungal conidia and sheep erythrocytes. Quantitative real-time PCR assays revealed that ZmCOR is expressed 50% more in maize kernels from the Mp420 line, a type of maize resistant to A. flavus, compared with the expression level of the gene in the susceptible B73 line. ZmCORp exhibited fungistatic activity when conidia from A. flavus were exposed to the protein at a final concentration of 18 mM. ZmCORp inhibited the germination of conidia by 80%. A 50% decrease in mycelial growth resulted when germinated conidia were incubated with the protein. The partial characterization of ZmCORp suggests that this protein may play an important role in enhancing kernel resistance to A. flavus infection and aflatoxin accumulation.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA 2: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana 70179, USA 3: Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, Louisiana State University, Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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