Genetic male sterility has been widely studied for its biological significance and commercial value in hybrid seed production. Although many male-sterile mutants have been identified in maize (Zea mays L.), it is likely that most genes that cause male sterility are unknown.

Here, we report a recessive genetic male-sterile mutant, male sterility33 (ms33), which displays small, pale yellow anthers, and complete male sterility. Using a map-based cloning approach, maize GRMZM2G070304 was identified as the ms33 gene (ZmMs33). ZmMs33encodes a novel sn-2 glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (GPAT) in maize. A functional complementation experiment showed that GRMZM2G070304 can rescue the male-sterile phenotype of the ms33-6029 mutant. GRMZM2G070304 was further confirmed to be the ms33 gene via targeted knockouts induced by the clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 system. ZmMs33 is preferentially expressed in the immature anther from the quartet to early-vacuolate microspore stages and in root tissues at the fifth leaf growth stage. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that ZmMs33 and OsGPAT3 are evolutionarily conserved for anther and pollen development in monocot species. This study reveals that the monocot-specific GPAT3 protein plays an important role in male fertility in maize, and ZmMs33 and mutants in this gene may have value in maize male-sterile line breeding and hybrid seed production.