In maize, water stress at flowering causes loss of kernel set and productivity. While changes in the levels of sugars and abscisic acid (ABA) are thought to play a role in this stress response, the mechanistic basis and genes involved are not known. A candidate gene approach was used with association mapping to identify loci involved in accumulation of carbohydrates and ABA metabolites during stress. A panel of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes from these metabolic pathways and in genes for reproductive development and stress response was used to genotype 350 tropical and subtropical maize inbred lines that were well watered or water stressed at flowering. Pre-pollination ears, silks, and leaves were analysed for sugars, starch, proline, ABA, ABA-glucose ester, and phaseic acid. ABA and sugar levels in silks and ears were negatively correlated with their growth. Association mapping with 1229 SNPs in 540 candidate genes identified an SNP in the maize homologue of the Arabidopsis MADS-box gene, PISTILLATA, which was significantly associated with phaseic acid in ears of well-watered plants, and an SNP in pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, a key regulator of carbon flux into respiration, that was associated with silk sugar concentration. An SNP in an aldehyde oxidase gene was significantly associated with ABA levels in silks of water-stressed plants. Given the short range over which decay of linkage disequilibrium occurs in maize, the results indicate that allelic variation in these genes affects ABA and carbohydrate metabolism in floral tissues during drought.
Journal of Experimental Botany (2011) 62 (2) 701-716 [doi: 10.1093/jxb/erq308]