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Genome-Wide Association Study for Maize Leaf Cuticular Conductance Identifies Candidate Genes Involved in the Regulation of Cuticle Development


The cuticle, a hydrophobic layer of cutin and waxes synthesized by plant epidermal cells, is the major barrier to water loss when stomata are closed at night and under water-limited conditions. Elucidating the genetic architecture of natural variation for leaf cuticular conductance (g c) is important for identifying genes relevant to improving crop productivity in drought-prone environments. To this end, we conducted a genome-wide association study of g c of adult leaves in a maize inbred association panel that was evaluated in four environments (Maricopa, AZ, and San Diego, CA, in 2016 and 2017). Five genomic regions significantly associated with g c were resolved to seven plausible candidate genes (ISTL1, two SEC14 homologs, cyclase-associated protein, a CER7 homolog, GDSL lipase, and β-D-XYLOSIDASE 4). These candidates are potentially involved in cuticle biosynthesis, trafficking and deposition of cuticle lipids, cutin polymerization, and cell wall modification. Laser microdissection RNA sequencing revealed that all these candidate genes, with the exception of the CER7 homolog, were expressed in the zone of the expanding adult maize leaf where cuticle maturation occurs. With direct application to genetic improvement, moderately high average predictive abilities were observed for whole-genome prediction of g c in locations (0.46 and 0.45) and across all environments (0.52). The findings of this study provide novel insights into the genetic control of g c and have the potential to help breeders more effectively develop drought-tolerant maize for target environments.

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