A new family of plant antifungal proteins.
Plant seeds contain high concentrations of many antimicrobial proteins. These include chitinases, beta-1,3-glucanases, proteinase inhibitors, and ribosome-inactivating proteins. We recently reported the presence in corn seeds of zeamatin, a protein that has potent activity against a variety of fungi but has none of the above activities. Zeamatin is a 22-kDa protein that acts by causing membrane permeabilization Using a novel bioautography technique, we found similar antifungal proteins in the seeds of 6 of 12 plants examined. A polyclonal antiserum was raised against zeamatin and was used in immunoblots to confirm the presence of zeamatinlike proteins in these seeds. N-terminal amino acid sequencing was carried out on the antifungal proteins from corn, oats, sorghum, and wheat, and these sequences revealed considerable homology with each other. Interestingly, these N-terminal sequences are also similar to those of thaumatin, a pathogenesis-related protein from tobacco, and two salt stress-induced proteins. These results indicate that zeamatin is not unique but is a member of a previously unrecognized family of plant defense proteins that may include some species of pathogenesis-related proteins.