Higher expression of induced defenses in teosintes (Zea spp.) is correlated with greater resistance to fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda Academic Article uri icon


  • Selection for plant traits important for agriculture can come at a high cost to plant defenses. While selecting for increased growth rate and yield, domestication and subsequent breeding may lead to weakened defenses and greater susceptibility of plants to herbivores. We tested whether expression of defense genes differed among maize, Zea mays ssp. mays L. (Poaceae), and its wild relatives Zea mays ssp. parviglumis Iltis & Doebley and Zea diploperennis Iltis et al. We used two populations of Z. mays ssp. parviglumis: one expected to express high levels of an herbivore resistance gene, wound-inducible protein (wip1), and another expected to have low expression of wip1. To test whether maize and wild Zea differed in induction of defenses against Spodoptera frugiperda (Smith) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), we quantified expression of several genes involved in plant defense: wip1, maize protease inhibitor (mpi), pathogenesis-related protein (PR-1), and chitinase. Moreover, we compared growth, development, and survival of caterpillars on maize and wild Zea plants. We found that maize expressed low levels of all but one of the genes when attacked by caterpillars, whereas the wild relatives of maize expressed induced defense genes at high levels. Expression of wip1, in particular, was much greater in the Z. mays ssp. parviglumis population that we expected to naturally express high levels of wip1, with expression levels 29-fold higher than in herbivore-free plants. Elevated expression of defenses in wild plants was correlated with higher resistance to caterpillars. Larvae were 15-20% smaller on wild Zea compared with maize, developed 20% slower, and only 22% of them survived to pupation on Z. mays ssp. parviglumis with high levels of wip1. Our results suggest that domestication has inadvertently reduced the resistance of maize, and it is likely that expression of wip1 and other genes associated with defenses play an important role in this reduction in resistance. 2012 The Netherlands Entomological Society.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Szczepaniec, A., Widney, S. E., Bernal, J. S., & Eubanks, M. D.

citation count

  • 35

complete list of authors

  • Szczepaniec, Adrianna||Widney, Sarah E||Bernal, Julio S||Eubanks, Micky D

publication date

  • February 2013