Key message Nine transgenes from different categories, viz. plant defense response genes and anti-apoptosis genes, played combined roles in maize to inhibit the necrotrophic pathogens Rhizoctonia solani and Bipolaris maydis.



Maize sheath blight and southern corn leaf blight are major global threats to maize production. The management of these necrotrophic pathogens has encountered limited success due to the characteristics of their lifestyle. Here, we presented a transgenic pyramiding breeding strategy to achieve nine different resistance genes integrated in one transgenic maize line to combat different aspects of necrotrophic pathogens. These nine genes, selected from two different categories, plant defense response genes (ChiGluAce-AMP1TlpRs-AFP2ZmPROPEP1 and Pti4), and anti-apoptosis genes (Iap and p35), were successfully transferred into maize and further implicated in resistance against the necrotrophic pathogens Rhizoctonia solani and Bipolaris maydis. Furthermore, the transgenic maize line 910, with high expression levels of the nine integrated genes, was selected from 49 lines. Under greenhouse and field trial conditions, line 910 showed significant resistance against maize sheath blight and southern corn leaf blight diseases. Higher-level resistance was obtained after the pyramiding of more resistance transgenes from different categories that function via different mechanisms. The present study provides a successful strategy for the management of necrotrophic pathogens.