Burton AL, JP Lynch, KM Brown.



Background and Aims: Previous research has suggested that root cortical aerenchyma (RCA) can enhance soil exploration and crop performance by decreasing root respiration. This trait is a potential breeding target for adaptation to abiotic stresses such as drought and low nutrient availability. However, little is known of phenotypic variation in aerenchyma or its distribution among root classes.
Methods: The spatial distribution of RCA was evaluated in freehand sections from 13 sites in the root systems of 11 recombinant inbred and commercial lines of maize (Zea
mays). RCA variation was evaluated in 583 recombinant inbred lines of maize at one sampling position.
Results: RCA varied significantly among root classes and axial positions. Genotypic differences were observed for the amount of RCA at corresponding sampling locations and for the mean amount of RCA across all sampling locations, but genotypes did not differ in the proportional distribution of RCA within the whole root system. The amount of RCA in a cross-section was independent of several other anatomical traits.
Conclusions: There is substantial genetic variation for RCA, and this variation is independent of other anatomical traits. RCA can be phenotyped in greenhouse-grown plants by sampling the middle parts of second- or third-whorl crown roots.