Are source and sink strengths genetically linked in maize plants subjected to water deficit? A QTL study of the responses of leaf growth and of Anthesis-Silking Interval to water deficit

C Welcker, B Boussuge, C Bencivenni, J-M Ribaut, F Tardieu
Journal of Experimental Botany 2007, 58 (2): 339-49
Leaf growth and Anthesis-Silking Interval (ASI) are the main determinants of source and sink strengths of maize via their relations with light interception and yield, respectively. They depend on the abilities of leaves and silks to expand under fluctuating environmental conditions, so the possibility is raised that they may have a partly common genetic determinism. This possibility was tested in a mapping population which segregates for ASI. Maximum leaf elongation rate per unit thermal time (parameter a) and the slopes of its responses to evaporative demand and soil water status (parameters b and c) were measured in greenhouse and growth chamber experiments, in two series of 120 recombinant inbred lines (RILs) studied in 2004 and 2005 with 33 RILs in common both years. ASI was measured in three and five fields under well-watered conditions and water deficit, respectively. For each RIL, the maximum elongation rate per unit thermal time was reproducible over several experiments in well-watered plants. It was accounted for by five QTLs, among which three co-localized with QTLs of ASI of well-watered plants. The alleles conferring high leaf elongation rate conferred a low ASI (high silk elongation rate). The responses of leaf elongation rate to evaporative demand and to predawn leaf water potential were linear, allowing each RIL to be characterized by the slopes of these response curves. These slopes had three QTLs in common with ASI of plants under water deficit. The allele for leaf growth maintenance was, in all cases, that for shorter ASI (maintained silk elongation rate). By contrast, other regions influencing ASI had no influence on leaf growth. These results may have profound consequences for modelling the genotype x environment interaction and for designing drought-tolerant ideotypes.

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