Genetic variation for maize root architecture in response to drought stress at the seedling stage

Journal: Breeding Science

Author: Rongyao Li, Yijin Zeng, Jie Xu, Qi Wang, Fengkai Wu, Moju Cao, Hai Lan, Yaxi Liu and Yanli Lu


Although the root system is indispensable for absorption of nutrients and water, it is poorly studied in maize owing to the difficulties of direct measurement of roots. Here, 103 maize lines were used to compare root architectures under well-watered and water-stressed conditions. Significant genetic variation, with medium to high heritability and significant correlations, was observed for root traits. Total root length (TRL) and total root surface area (TSA) had high phenotypical diversity, and TRL was positively correlated with TSA, root volume, and root forks. The first two principal components explained 94.01% and 91.15% of total root variation in well­watered and water­stressed conditions, respectively. Thus, TRL and TSA, major contributors to root variation, can be used as favorable selection criteria at the seedling stage. We found that stiff stalk and non­stiff stalk groups (temperate backgrounds) showed relatively higher mean values for root morphological diversity than the TST group (tropical/subtropical background). Of the tested lines, 7, 42, 45, and 9 were classified as drought sensitive, moderately sensitive, moderately drought tolerant, and highly drought tolerant, respectively. Seven of the 9 extremely drought tolerant lines were from the TST group, suggesting that TST germplasms harbor valuable genetic resources for drought tolerance that could be used in breeding to improve abiotic stress tolerance in maize.