Campus Units

Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

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Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

The Plant Genome




The extraordinarily long stigmatic silks of corn (Zea mays L.) are critical for grain production but the biology of their growth and emergence from husk leaves has remained underexplored. Accordingly, gene expression was assayed for inbreds ‘B73’ and ‘Mo17’ across five contiguous silk sections. Half of the maize genes (∼20,000) are expressed in silks, mostly in spatiotemporally dynamic patterns. In particular, emergence triggers strong differential expression of ∼1,500 genes collectively enriched for gene ontology terms associated with abiotic and biotic stress responses, hormone signaling, cell–cell communication, and defense metabolism. Further, a meta‐analysis of published maize transcriptomic studies on seedling stress showed that silk emergence elicits an upregulated transcriptomic response that overlaps strongly with both abiotic and biotic stress responses. Although the two inbreds revealed similar silk transcriptomic programs overall, genotypic expression differences were observed for 5,643 B73–Mo17 syntenic gene pairs and collectively account for >50% of genome‐wide expression variance. Coexpression clusters, including many based on genotypic divergence, were identified and interrogated via ontology‐term enrichment analyses to generate biological hypotheses for future research. Ultimately, dissecting how gene expression changes along the length of silks and between husk‐encased and emerged states offers testable models for silk development and plant response to environmental stresses.


This article is published as McNinch, Colton, Keting Chen, Tesia Dennison, Miriam Lopez, Marna D. Yandeau‐Nelson, and Nick Lauter. "A multigenotype maize silk expression atlas reveals how exposure‐related stresses are mitigated following emergence from husk leaves." The Plant Genome (2020): e20040. doi: 10.1002/tpg2.20040.


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