Genetic analysis of drought tolerance in maize by molecular markers I. Yield components
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Grain yield is a complex trait, strongly influenced by the environment: severe losses can be caused by drought, a stress common in most maize-growing areas, including temperate climatic zones. Accordingly, drought tolerance is one of the main components of yield stability, and its improvement is a major challenge to breeders. The aim of the present work was the identification, in maize genotypes adapted to temperate areas, of genomic segments responsible for the expression of drought tolerance of yield components: ear length, ear weight, kernel weight, kernel number and 50-kernel weight. A linkage analysis between the expression of these traits and molecular markers was performed on a recombinant inbred population of 142 families, obtained by repeated selfing of the F1 between lines B73 and H99. The population, genotyped at 173 loci (RFLPs, microsatellites and AFLPs), was evaluated in well-watered and water-stressed conditions. A drought tolerance index was calculated as the ratio between the mean value of the trait in the two environments. For the traits measured, a highly positive correlation was found over the two water regimes, and more than 50% of the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) detected were the same in both; moreover, the direction of the allelic contribution was always consistent, the allele increasing the trait value being mostly from line B73. Several QTLs were common to two or more traits. For the tolerance index, however, most of the QTLs were specific for a single component and different from those controlling the basic traits; in addition, a large proportion of the alleles increasing tolerance were provided by line H99. The data suggest that drought tolerance for yield components is largely associated with genetic and physiological factors independent from those determining the traits per se. The implications of these results for developing an efficient strategy of marker-assisted selection for drought tolerance are discussed.
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