Genetic control of duration of pre-anthesis phases in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and relationships to leaf appearance, tillering, and dry matter accumulation
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The duration of pre-anthesis developmental phases is of interest in breeding for improved adaptation and yield potential in temperate cereals. Yet despite numerous studies on the genetic control of anthesis (flowering) time and floral initiation, little is known about the genetic control of other pre-anthesis phases. Furthermore, little is known about the effect that changes in the duration of pre-anthesis phases could have on traits related to leaf appearance and tillering, or dry matter accumulation before terminal spikelet initiation (TS). The genetic control of the leaf and spikelet initiation phase (LS; from sowing to TS), the stem elongation phase (SE; from TS to anthesis), and, within the latter, from TS to flag leaf appearance and from then to anthesis, was studied in two doubled-haploid, mapping bread wheat populations, Cranbrook×Halberd and CD87×Katepwa, in two field experiments (ACT and NSW, Australia). The lengths of phases were estimated from measurements of both TS and the onset of stem elongation. Dry weight per plant before TS, rate of leaf appearance, tillering rate, maximum number of tillers and number of leaves, and dry weight per plant at TS were also estimated in the Cranbrook×Halberd population. More genomic regions were identified for the length of the different pre-anthesis phases than for total time to anthesis. Although overall genetic correlations between LS and SE were significant and positive, independent genetic variability between LS and SE, and several quantitative trait loci (QTLs) with different effects on both phases were found in the two populations. Several of these QTLs (which did not seem to coincide with reported major genes) could be of interest for breeding purposes since they were only significant for either LS or SE. There was no relationship between LS and the rate of leaf appearance. LS was strongly and positively correlated with dry weight at TS but only slightly negatively correlated with early vigour (dry weight before TS). Despite significant genetic correlations between LS and some tillering traits, shortening LS so as to lengthen SE without modifying total time to anthesis would not necessarily reduce tillering capacity, as QTLs for tillering traits did not coincide with those QTLs significant only for LS or SE. Therefore, the study of different pre-anthesis phases is relevant for a better understanding of genetic factors regulating developmental time and may offer new tools for fine-tuning it in breeding for both adaptability and yield potential.