Genetic variation in salt tolerance at the seedling stage in an interspecific backcross inbred line population of cultivated tetraploid cotton
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Soil salinity reduces cotton growth, yield, and fiber quality and has become a serious problem in the arid southwestern region of the Unites States. Development and planting of salt-tolerant cultivars could ameliorate the deleterious effects. The objective of this study was to assess the genetic variation of salt tolerance and identify salt tolerant genotypes in a backcross inbred line (BIL) population of 142 lines from a cross of Upland (Gossypium hirsutum) × Pima cotton (G. barbadense) at the seedling growth stage. As compared with the non-saline (control) conditions, seedlings under the salinity stress (200 mM NaCl) showed a significant reduction in all the plant growth characteristics measured, as expected. Even though the two parents did not differ in salt response as measured by percent reduction, significant genotype variations in the BIL population were detected for all traits except for leaf number. Based on percent reduction of the traits measured, several BILs were more salt tolerant than both parents. The results indicate that transgressive segregation occurred during the process of backcrossing and selfing even though both parents were not salt tolerant during seedling growth. Coefficients of correlation between all the traits were significantly positive, indicating an association between the traits measured. The estimates of broad-sense heritability were 0.69, 0.46, 0.47, 0.43, and 0.49 for plant height, fresh weight of shoot and root, and dry weight of shoot and root, respectively, indicating that salt tolerance during cotton seedling growth is moderately heritable and environmental variation plays an equally important role. The overall results demonstrate that backcrossing followed by repeated self-pollination is a successful strategy to enhance salt tolerance at the seedling stage by transferring genetic factors from Pima to Upland cotton.