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Concept: Poaceae


Despite the extensive cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) maize and considerable number of scientific reports on its agro-environmental impact, the risks and benefits of GE maize are still being debated and concerns about safety remain. This meta-analysis aimed at increasing knowledge on agronomic, environmental and toxicological traits of GE maize by analyzing the peer-reviewed literature (from 1996 to 2016) on yield, grain quality, non-target organisms (NTOs), target organisms (TOs) and soil biomass decomposition. Results provided strong evidence that GE maize performed better than its near isogenic line: grain yield was 5.6 to 24.5% higher with lower concentrations of mycotoxins (-28.8%), fumonisin (-30.6%) and thricotecens (-36.5%). The NTOs analyzed were not affected by GE maize, except for Braconidae, represented by a parasitoid of European corn borer, the target of Lepidoptera active Bt maize. Biogeochemical cycle parameters such as lignin content in stalks and leaves did not vary, whereas biomass decomposition was higher in GE maize. The results support the cultivation of GE maize, mainly due to enhanced grain quality and reduction of human exposure to mycotoxins. Furthermore, the reduction of the parasitoid of the target and the lack of consistent effects on other NTOs are confirmed.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Ecology, Poaceae, Maize, James D. Watson, Genetically modified food, Transgenic maize


Miscanthus sacchariflorus is a fast-growing C(4) perennial grass that can naturally hybridize with M. sinensis to produce interspecific hybrids, such as the sterile triploid M.× giganteus. The creation of such hybrids is essential for the rapid domestication of this novel bioenergy crop. However, progress has been hindered by poor understanding of the environmental cues promoting floral transition in M. sacchariflorus, which flowers less readily than M. sinensis. The purpose of this work was to identify the flowering requirements of M. sacchariflorus genotypes in order to expedite the introduction of new germplasm optimized to different environments. Six M. sacchariflorus accessions collected from a range of latitudes were grown under controlled photoperiod and temperature conditions, and flowering, biomass, and morphological phenotypic data were captured. Results indicated that M. sacchariflorus, irrespective of origin, is a quantitative short-day plant. Flowering under static long days (15.3h daylength), compared with shorter photoperiods, was delayed by an average 61 d, with an average associated increase of 52% of above-ground biomass (DM plant(-1)). Timing of floral initiation occurred between photoperiods of 14.2h and 12.1h, and accumulated temperatures of 553-1157 °C above a base temperature of 10 °C. Miscanthus sacchariflorus flowering phenology closely resembles that of Sorghum and Saccharum, indicating potentially similar floral pathways and suggesting that determination of the underlying genetic mechanisms will be facilitated by the syntenic relationships existing between these important C(4) grasses.

Concepts: Evolution, Poaceae, Maize, Flower, Biofuel, Photoperiodism, Biomass, Miscanthus giganteus


Starch grain, phytolith and cereal bran fragments were analyzed in order to identify the food remains including cakes, dumplings, as well as porridge unearthed at the Astana Cemeteries in Turpan of Xinjiang, China. The results suggest that the cakes were made from Triticum aestivum while the dumplings were made from Triticum aestivum, along with Setaria italica. The ingredients of the porridge remains emanated from Panicum miliaceum. Moreover, direct macrobotantical evidence of the utilization of six cereal crops, such as Triticum aestivum, Hordeum vulgare var. coeleste, Panicum miliaceum, Setaria italica, Cannabis sativa, and Oryza sativa in the Turpan region during the Jin and Tang dynasties (about 3(rd) to 9(th) centuries) is also presented. All of these cereal crops not only provided food for the survival of the indigenous people, but also spiced up their daily life.

Concepts: Wheat, Poaceae, Cereal, Maize, Rice, Oat, Barley, Staple food


Agricultural sustainability may represent the greatest encumbrance to increasing food production. On the other hand, as a component of sustainability, replacement of chemical fertilizers by bio-fertilizers has the potential to lower costs for farmers, to increase yields, and to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions and pollution of water and soil. Rhizobia and plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) have been broadly used in agriculture, and advances in our understanding of plant-bacteria interactions have been achieved; however, the use of signaling molecules to enhance crop performance is still modest. In this study, we evaluated the effects of concentrated metabolites (CM) from two strains of rhizobia—Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens USDA 110T (BD1) and Rhizobium tropici CIAT 899T (RT1)—at two concentrations of active compounds (10–8 and 10–9 M)—on the performances of two major plant-microbe interactions, of Bradyrhizobium spp.-soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) and Azospirillum brasilense-maize (Zea mays L.). For soybean, one greenhouse and two field experiments were performed and effects of addition of CM from the homologous and heterologous strains, and of the flavonoid genistein were investigated. For maize, three field experiments were performed to examine the effects of CM from RT1. For soybean, compared to the treatment inoculated exclusively with Bradyrhizobium, benefits were achieved with the addition of CM-BD1; at 10–9 M, grain yield was increased by an average of 4.8%. For maize, the best result was obtained with the addition of CM-RT1, also at 10–9 M, increasing grain yield by an average of 11.4%. These benefits might be related to a combination of effects attributed to secondary compounds produced by the rhizobial strains, including exopolysaccharides (EPSs), plant hormones and lipo-chitooligosaccharides (LCOs). The results emphasize the biotechnological potential of using secondary metabolites of rhizobia together with inoculants containing both rhizobia and PGPR to improve the growth and yield of grain crops.

Concepts: Agriculture, Wheat, Poaceae, Soybean, Cereal, Maize, Rice, Staple food


Background and AimsCold is a major constraint for cereal cultivation under temperate climates. Winter-hardy plants interpret seasonal changes and can acquire the ability to resist sub-zero temperatures. This cold acclimation process is associated with physiological, biochemical and molecular alterations in cereals. Brachypodium distachyon is considered a powerful model system to study the response of temperate cereals to adverse environmental conditions. To date, little is known about the cold acclimation and freezing tolerance capacities of Brachypodium. The main objective of this study was to evaluate the cold hardiness of seven diploid Brachypodium accessions.MethodsAn integrated approach, involving monitoring of phenological indicators along with expression profiling of the major vernalization regulator VRN1 orthologue, was followed. In parallel, soluble sugars and proline contents were determined along with expression profiles of two COR genes in plants exposed to low temperatures. Finally, whole-plant freezing tests were performed to evaluate the freezing tolerance capacity of Brachypodium.Key ResultsCold treatment accelerated the transition from the vegetative to the reproductive phase in all diploid Brachypodium accessions tested. In addition, low temperature exposure triggered the gradual accumulation of BradiVRN1 transcripts in all accessions tested. These accessions exhibited a clear cold acclimation response by progressively accumulating proline, sugars and COR gene transcripts. However, whole-plant freezing tests revealed that these seven diploid accessions only have a limited capacity to develop freezing tolerance when compared with winter varieties of temperate cereals such as wheat and barley. Furthermore, little difference in terms of survival was observed among the accessions tested despite their previous classification as either spring or winter genotypes.ConclusionsThis study is the first to characterize the freezing tolerance capacities of B. distachyon and provides strong evidence that some diploid accessions such as Bd21 have a facultative growth habit.

Concepts: Physiology, Climate, Temperature, Poaceae, Cereal, Season, Carbohydrate, Temperateness


Analysis of organic residues in pottery vessels has been successful in detecting a range of animal and plant products as indicators of food preparation and consumption in the past. However, the identification of plant remains, especially grain crops in pottery, has proved elusive. Extending the spectrum is highly desirable, not only to strengthen our understanding of the dispersal of crops from centres of domestication but also to determine modes of food processing, artefact function and the culinary significance of the crop. Here, we propose a new approach to identify millet in pottery vessels, a crop that spread throughout much of Eurasia during prehistory following its domestication, most likely in northern China. We report the successful identification of miliacin (olean-18-en-3β-ol methyl ether), a pentacyclic triterpene methyl ether that is enriched in grains of common/broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), in Bronze Age pottery vessels from the Korean Peninsula and northern Europe. The presence of millet is supported by enriched carbon stable isotope values of bulk charred organic matter sampled from pottery vessel surfaces and extracted n-alkanoic acids, consistent with a C4 plant origin. These data represent the first identification of millet in archaeological ceramic vessels, providing a means to track the introduction, spread and consumption of this important crop.

Concepts: Poaceae, Cereal, Neolithic, Crops, Archaeology, Prehistory, Bronze Age, Millet


Finger millet is one of the small millets with high nutritive value. This crop is vulnerable to blast disease caused by Pyricularia grisea, which occurs annually during rainy and winter seasons. Leaf blast occurs at early crop stage and is highly damaging. Mapping of resistance genes and other quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for agronomic performance can be of great use for improving finger millet genotypes. Evaluation of one hundred and twenty-eight finger millet genotypes in natural field conditions revealed that leaf blast caused severe setback on agronomic performance for susceptible genotypes, most significant traits being plant height and root length. Plant height was reduced under disease severity while root length was increased. Among the genotypes, IE4795 showed superior response in terms of both disease resistance and better agronomic performance. A total of seven unambiguous QTLs were found to be associated with various agronomic traits including leaf blast resistance by association mapping analysis. The markers, UGEP101 and UGEP95, were strongly associated with blast resistance. UGEP98 was associated with tiller number and UGEP9 was associated with root length and seed yield. Cross species validation of markers revealed that 12 candidate genes were associated with 8 QTLs in the genomes of grass species such as rice, foxtail millet, maize, Brachypodium stacei, B. distachyon, Panicum hallii and switchgrass. Several candidate genes were found proximal to orthologous sequences of the identified QTLs such as 1,4-β-glucanase for leaf blast resistance, cytokinin dehydrogenase (CKX) for tiller production, calmodulin (CaM) binding protein for seed yield and pectin methylesterase inhibitor (PMEI) for root growth and development. Most of these QTLs and their putatively associated candidate genes are reported for first time in finger millet. On validation, these novel QTLs may be utilized in future for marker assisted breeding for the development of fungal resistant and high yielding varieties of finger millet.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Poaceae, Magnaporthe grisea, Millet, Underutilized crops, Millets, Finger millet


The domestication and transmission of cereals is one of the most fundamental components of early farming, but direct evidence of their use in early culinary practices and economies has remained frustratingly elusive. Using analysis of a well-preserved Early Bronze Age wooden container from Switzerland, we propose novel criteria for the identification of cereal residues. Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), we identified compounds typically associated with plant products, including a series of phenolic lipids (alkylresorcinols) found only at appreciable concentration in wheat and rye bran. The value of these lipids as cereal grain biomarkers were independently corroborated by the presence of macrobotanical remains embedded in the deposit, and wheat and rye endosperm peptides extracted from residue. These findings demonstrate the utility of a lipid-based biomarker for wheat and rye bran and offer a methodological template for future investigations of wider range of archaeological contexts. Alkylresorcinols provide a new tool for residue analysis which can help explore the spread and exploitation of cereal grains, a fundamental component of the advent and spread of farming.

Concepts: Wheat, Poaceae, Cereal, Maize, Rye, Rice, Oat, Cereals


The deposition of toxic munitions compounds, such as hexahydro-1, 3, 5-triniitro-1, 3, 5-trizaine (RDX), on soils around targets in live-fire-training ranges is an important source of groundwater contamination. Plants take up RDX but do not significantly degrade it. Reported here is the transformation of two perennial grass species, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), with the genes for degradation of RDX. These species possess a number of agronomic traits making them well-equipped for the uptake and removal of RDX from root zone leachates. Transformation vectors were constructed with xplA and xplB, which confer the ability to degrade RDX, and nfsI, which encodes a nitroreductase for the detoxification of the co-contaminating explosive 2, 4, 6-trinitrotoluene (TNT). The vectors were transformed into the grass species using Agrobacterium tumefaciens infection. All transformed grass lines showing high transgene expression levels removed significantly more RDX from hydroponic solutions and retained significantly less RDX in their leaf tissues than wild type plants. Soil columns planted with the best-performing switchgrass line were able to prevent leaching of RDX through a 0.5 m root zone. These plants represent a promising plant biotechnology to sustainably remove RDX from training range soil, thus preventing contamination of groundwater. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Gene, Agriculture, Plant, Soil, Poaceae, Agrobacterium, Grass, Agrostis


While transformation of the major monocot crops is currently possible, the process typically remains confined to one or two genotypes per species, often with poor agronomics, and efficiencies that place these methods beyond the reach of most academic laboratories. Here, we report a transformation approach involving overexpression of the maize (Zea mays) Baby boom (Bbm) and maize Wuschel2 (Wus2) genes, which produced high transformation frequencies in numerous previously non-transformable maize inbred lines. For example, the Pioneer inbred PHH5G is recalcitrant to biolistic and Agrobacterium transformation. However, when Bbm and Wus2 were expressed, transgenic calli were recovered from over 40% of the starting explants, with most producing healthy, fertile plants. Another limitation for many monocots is the intensive labor and greenhouse space required to supply immature embryos for transformation. This problem could be alleviated by using alternative target tissues that could be supplied consistently with automated preparation. As a major step toward this objective, we transformed Bbm and Wus2 directly into either embryo slices from mature seed or leaf segments from seedlings in a variety of Pioneer inbred lines, routinely recovering healthy, fertile T0 plants. Finally, we demonstrated that the maize Bbm and Wus2 genes stimulate transformation in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) immature embryos, sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) callus, and indica rice (Oryza sativa var. indica) callus.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Poaceae, Maize, Seed, Monocotyledon, Rice, Energy crops, Sugarcane