Sink limitations to yield in wheat : how could it be reduced?
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Further genetic gains in wheat yield are required to match expected increases in demand. This may require the identification of physiological attributes able to produce such improvement, as well as the genetic bases controlling those traits in order to facilitate their manipulation. In the present paper,
a theoretical framework of source and sink limitation to wheat yield is presented and the fine-tuning of crop development as an alternative for increasing yield potential is discussed. Following a top-down approach, most crop physiologists have agreed that the main attribute explaining past genetic gains in yield was harvest index (HI). By virtue of previous success, no further gains may be expected in HI and an alternative must be found. Using a bottom-up approach, the present paper firstly provides evidence on the generalized sink-limited condition of grain growth, determining that for further increases in yield potential, sink strength during grain filling has to be increased. The focus should be on further increasing grain number per m2, through fine-tuning pre-anthesis developmental patterns. The phase of rapid spike growth period (RSGP) is critical for grain number determination and increasing spike growth during pre-anthesis would result in an increased number of grains. This might be achieved by lengthening the duration of the phase (though without altering flowering time), as there is genotypic variation in the proportion of pre-anthesis time elapsed either before or after the onset of the stem elongation phase. Photoperiod sensitivity during RSGP could be then used as a genetic tool to further increase grain number, since slower development results in smoother floret development and more floret primordia achieve the fertile floret stage, able to produce a grain. Far less progress has been achieved on the genetic control of this attribute. None of the well-known major Ppd alleles seems to be consistently responsible for RSGP sensitivity. Alternatives for identifying the genetic factors responsible for this sensitivity (e.g. quantitative trait locus (QTL) identification in mapping populations) are being considered.