Maize genotypes may adapt to dry environments by avoiding desiccation by means of a deeper root system or by maintaining growth and water extraction at low water potentials. The aim of this study was to determine the quantitative genetic control of root growth and root morphology in a population of 236 recombinant inbred lines (RILs) from the cross between CML444 (high-yielding) × SC-Malawi (low-yielding), which segregates for the response to drought stress at flowering. The RILs and the parental lines were grown on blotting paper in growth pouches until the two-leaf stage under non-stressed conditions; the parents were additionally exposed to desiccation stress induced by polyethylene glycol with a molecular weight of 8000 Dalton (PEG-8000). The lengths of axile and lateral roots were measured non-destructively at 2, 5, 7 and 9 days after germination, by scanning with an A4 scanner followed by digital image analysis. CML444 had a lower rate constant of lateral root elongation (kLat) than SC-Malawi, but the two genotypes did not differ in their response to desiccation. QTLs affecting root vigor, as depicted by increments in kLat, the elongation rate of axile roots (ERAx) and the number of axile roots (NoAx) were identified in bins 2.04 and 2.05. QTLs for NoAx and ERAx collocated with QTLs for yield parameters in bins 1.03–1.04 and 7.03–04. The correspondence of QTLs for axile root traits in bins 1.02–1.03 and 1.08 and QTLs for lateral roots traits in bins 2.04–2.07 in several mapping populations suggests the presence of genes controlling root growth in a wide range of genetic backgrounds.
TAG Theoretical and Applied Genetics (2009) 119 (8) 1413-1424 [doi: 10.1007/s00122-009-1144-9]