Sequential gene activation and gene imprinting during early embryo development in maize.

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Gene imprinting is a widely observed epigenetic phenomenon in maize endosperm; however, whether it also occurs in the maize embryo remains controversial. Here, we used high-throughput RNA sequencing on laser capture microdissected and manually dissected maize embryos from reciprocal crosses between inbred lines B73 and Mo17 at six time points (3-13 days after pollination, DAP) to analyze allelic gene expression patterns. Co-expression analysis revealed sequential gene activation during maize embryo development. Gene imprinting was observed in maize embryos, and a greater number of imprinted genes were identified at early embryo stages. Sixty-four strongly imprinted genes were identified (at the threshold of 9:1) on manually dissected embryos 5-13 DAP (more imprinted genes at 5 DAP). Forty-one strongly imprinted genes were identified from laser capture microdissected embryos at 3 and 5 DAP (more imprinted genes at 3 DAP). Furthermore, of the 56 genes that were completely imprinted (at the threshold of 99:1), 36 were not previously identified as imprinted genes in endosperm or embryos. In situ hybridization demonstrated that most of the imprinted genes were expressed abundantly in maize embryonic tissue. Our results shed lights on early maize embryo development and provide evidence to support that gene imprinting occurs in maize embryos.

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