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Leaf thickness of barley: genetic dissection, candidate genes prediction and its relationship with yield-related traits


Key message

In this first genetic study on assessing leaf thickness directly in cereals, major and environmentally stable QTL were detected in barley and candidate genes underlying a major locus were identified.


Leaf thickness (LT) is an important characteristic affecting leaf functions which have been intensively studied. However, as LT has a small dimension in many plant species and technically difficult to measure, previous studies on this characteristic are often based on indirect estimations. In the first study of detecting QTL controlling LT by directly measuring the characteristic in barley, large and stable loci were detected from both field and glasshouse trials conducted in different cropping seasons by assessing a population of 201 recombinant inbred lines. Four loci (locating on chromosome arms 2H, 3H, 5H and 6H, respectively) were consistently detected for flag leaf thickness (FLT) in each of these trials. The one on 6H had the largest effect, with a maximum LOD 9.8 explaining up to 20.9% of phenotypic variance. FLT does not only show strong interactions with flag leaf width and flag leaf area but has also strong correlations with fertile tiller number, spike row types, kernel number per spike and heading date. Though with reduced efficiency, these loci were also detectable from assessing second last leaf of fully grown plants or even from assessing the third leaves of seedlings. Taking advantage of the high-quality genome assemblies for both parents of the mapping population used in this study, three candidate genes underlying the 6H QTL were predicted based on orthologous analysis. These results do not only broaden our understanding on genetic basis of LT and its relationship with other traits in cereal crops but also form the bases for cloning and functional analysis of genes regulating LT in barley.

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The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors wish to thank Caritta Eliasson for her technical supports.


The funding was provided by CSIRO (Grant No. R-10191-01), and the Key Scientific and Technological Research Project of Henan Province (Grant No. 192102110030).

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Authors and Affiliations



JJ conceived the study. CL, ZZ and HH designed the experiments. ZZ, HH, SG, HZ, WL, and UK conducted the experiments, collected, and analysed data. ZZ, CL and HH prepared the first draft of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Chunji Liu or Jizeng Jia.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Communicated by Maria von Korff.

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Zheng, Z., Hu, H., Gao, S. et al. Leaf thickness of barley: genetic dissection, candidate genes prediction and its relationship with yield-related traits. Theor Appl Genet 135, 1843–1854 (2022).

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  • Leaf thickness
  • QTL mapping
  • Gene prediction
  • Barley