Background: Maintaining photosynthetic capacities is a critical function that allows maize ( Zea mays L.) to adapt to drought stress. The elucidation of genetic controls of photosynthetic performances, and tightly linked molecular markers under water stress are thus of great importance in marker-assisted selection (MAS) breeding. Meanwhile, little is known regarding their genetic controls under drought stress. Two F 4 populations were developed to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and dissect the genetic variation underlying six photosynthetic-related traits, namely, net photosynthetic rate (Pn), stomatal conductance (Gs), intercellular CO 2 concentration (Ci), transpiration rate (Tr), ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase activity (RuBP), and water use efficiency (WUE) under drought-stressed and well-watered environments.
Results: For two populations, we detected 54 QTLs under drought-stressed and well-watered environments by single-environment mapping with composite interval mapping (CIM), approximately 81.8~100 % QTLs displayed non-additive effects, and 43 of the 54 QTLs were identified under drought-stressed environment. We also dissected 54 QTLs via joint analysis of all environments with mixed-linear-model-based composite interval mapping (MCIM), 24 QTLs involved in QTL × environment interactions (QEIs), approximately 87.5 % QEIs were identified under drought-stressed environments, as well as 14 pair epistasis exhibited dominance-by-additive/dominance (DA/DD) effects under constracting environments. We further identified 8 constitutive QTLs (cQTLs) across two populations by CIM/MCIM under multiple environments. Remarkably, bin 1.07_1.10 (cQTL2), bin 6.05 (cQTL5), bin 7.02_7.04 (cQTL6), bin 8.03 (cQTL7), and bin 10.03 (cQTL8) exhibited 5 pleiotropic cQTLs that were consistent with phenotypic correlations among all photosynthetic-related traits. Additionally, 17 candidate genes were validated in above cQTLs.
Conclusions: Photosynthetic performances in maize were predominantly controlled by non-additive and QEIs effects, where more QEIs effects occurred in drought stress. 8 cQTLs affecting six photosynthetic-related traits could be useful for genetic improvement of these traits via QTL pyramiding, corresponding 5 QTLs clusters indicated tight linkage or pleiotropy in the inheritance of these traits, and 17 candidate genes involved in leaf morphology and development, photosynthesis, and stress reponse coincided with above corresponding cQTLs.