Both high-resolution magic-angle-spinning (HRMAS) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) NMR spectroscopies were applied here to identify the changes of metabolome, morphology, and structural properties induced in seeds (caryopses) of maize plants grown at field level under either mineral or compost fertilization in combination with the inoculation by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). The metabolome of intact caryopses was examined by HRMAS-NMR, while the morphological aspects, endosperm properties and seed water distribution were investigated by MRI. Principal component analysis (PCA) was applied to evaluate 1H CPMG (Carr-Purcel-Meiboom-Gill) HRMAS spectra as well as several MRI-derived parameters (T1, T2, and self-diffusion coefficients) of intact maize caryopses. PCA score-plots from spectral results indicated that both seeds metabolome and structural properties depended on the specific field treatment undergone by maize plants. Our findings show that a combination of multivariate statistical analyses with advanced and nondestructive NMR techniques, such as HRMAS and MRI, enables the evaluation of the effects induced on maize caryopses by different fertilization and management practices at field level. The spectroscopic approach adopted here may become useful for the objective appraisal of the quality of seeds produced under a sustainable agriculture.
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