During germination, maize seedlings express a phytase able to hydrolyse the large amount of phytin stored in the dry seed. Previous studies allowed purification and characterization of this enzyme as a homodimer of 38 kDa subunits [Labouré, Gagnon and Lescure, Biochem. J. (1993) 295, 413–419]. In the present work, an antibody against the purified maize phytase has been used to screen a maize seedling cDNA expression library. Several positive clones containing an insert of about 1400 bp were isolated. The nucleotide sequence of the insert of one of these clones has been established. This cDNA, called phy S11, was 1335 bp long and contained an open reading frame of 387 amino acids. The sequence of N-terminal residues (23 amino acids) of the purified phytase has been established. These residues are found at positions 19–41 of the amino acid sequence encoded by phy S11. This confirms that this cDNA codes for the maize phytase. The deduced amino acid sequence appears to be very different from those of published Aspergillus niger phytases; however, an homologous region of 33 amino acids was detected. This region of the fungal sequence contains the RHGxRxP consensus motif found in various high molecular mass acid phosphatases and believed to be the acceptor site for phosphate. Expression of the phy S11 cDNA in Escherichia coliallowed the production of the phytase subunit and its assembly to give a protein of the same size as the native phytase. The time course of phy S11 mRNA accumulation during germination showed that no transcript was present in dry seeds. The mRNA accumulated during the first day of germination, to reach a maximum after 2 days (radicle protrusion), and then decreased in young seedlings. Genomic Southern blot analyses suggest the existence of at least two genes and genetic mapping reveals two loci separated by 1 cM on chromosome 3 of maize. The cloning of this first cDNA coding for a plant phytase, will allow the isolation of the corresponding genes and the study of their regulation during germination.

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