Changes in root architecture and the maintenance of root growth in drying soil are key traits for the adaptation of maize (Zea mays L.) to drought environments. The goal of this study was to map quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for root growth and its response to dehydration in a population of 208 recombinant inbred lines from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The parents, Ac7643 and Ac7729/TZSRW, are known to be drought-tolerant and drought-sensitive, respectively. Roots were grown in pouches under well-watered conditions or at low water potential induced by the osmolyte polyethylene glycol (PEG 8000). Axile root length (L Ax) increased linearly, while lateral root length (L Lat) increased exponentially over time. Thirteen QTLs were identified for six seedling traits: elongation rates of axile roots (ERAx), the rate constant of lateral root elongation (k Lat), the final respective lengths (L Ax and L Lat), and the ratios k Lat/ERAx and L Lat/L Ax. While QTLs for lateral root traits were constitutively expressed, most QTLs for axile root traits responded to water stress. For axile roots, common QTLs existed for ERAx and L Ax. Quantitative trait loci for the elongation rates of axile roots responded more clearly to water stress compared to root length. Two major QTLs were detected: a QTL for general vigor in bin 2.02, affecting most of the traits, and a QTL for the constitutive increase in k Lat and k Lat/ERAx in bins 6.04–6.05. The latter co-located with a major QTL for the anthesis-silking interval (ASI) reported in published field experiments, suggesting an involvement of root morphology in drought tolerance. Rapid seedling tests are feasible for elucidating the genetic response of root growth to low water potential. Some loci may even have pleiotropic effects on yield-related traits under drought stress.
TAG Theoretical and Applied Genetics (2010) 120 (3) 621-631 [doi: 10.1007/s00122-009-1180-5]