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Transcription factors as molecular switches to regulate drought adaptation in maize

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Key message

Here, we reviewed major transcription factors of maize that confer drought stress tolerance, and their target genes and involved signaling pathway. Transcription factors in maize can be promising candidates for improving comprehensive resistance of multiple environmental stimuli.


Adverse environmental stress is the main influencing factor affecting plant growth and reproduction, which poses tremendous threats to sustainable agriculture development and crops productivity worldwide. Among various abiotic stress factors, drought is the most vital adversity with the characteristics of frequent occurrences, long duration, and globality. Maize (Zea mays L.) is a major source of food supply for human being and livestock and recently for biofuel. Maize is the crop that is highly susceptible to drought stress. Drought stress tolerance in plants is quite complex, and it is not ideal to improve crop drought tolerance through a single resistant gene. Transcription factors participate in the regulation of plant growth and development, morphogenesis, and various environmental stress responses via regulating the expression level of their target stress-responsive genes independently or cross talk with other transcription factors, thereby the comprehensive resistance of multiple stresses in crops is improved. This review aims to summarize the major drought-tolerant transcription factors in maize and their regulatory network. With the continuous identification of maize transcription factors, more will be demonstrated to confer drought tolerance either in maize or other crops. It is expected that the transcription factors will greatly enrich the functional gene resources and will be a benefit to drought-tolerant maize cultivars breeding.

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This work was supported by the Young Scientists Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31801378).

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PL drafted the manuscript. JZ edited and revised the manuscript, all authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Jun Zhao.

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Leng, P., Zhao, J. Transcription factors as molecular switches to regulate drought adaptation in maize. Theor Appl Genet (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00122-019-03494-y

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