Physiological and biochemical basis for stay-green trait in sorghum
Drought is a major cause of sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] yield losses in rain-fed agriculture, especially in the semi-arid and arid agro-ecological zones of Africa and Asia. Stay-green sorghum genotypes are able to maintain grain filling under drought conditions. The trait has been employed in the selection and breeding for post-flowering drought resistance, even though the genes regulating the trait are still being identified. The objective of this study was to assess how leaf area and chlorophyll are maintained in various sources of stay-green; and to determine whether the integrity of the photosynthetic apparatus and enzymes involved in the maintenance of photosynthesis during post-flowering drought stress are regulated differently. A glasshouse experiment was conducted using three stay-green sorghum lines (B35, KS19 and E36-1) and a senescent control, R16, under well-watered (WW) and water-limited (WL) conditions. The size of the canopy at anthesis varied significantly between genotypes, and this profoundly impacted leaf senescence patterns. For example, green leaf area (GLA) at anthesis was highly correlated with the decline in GLA during the first 21 days of grain filling, under both WW (r = 0.92) and WL (r = 0.86) conditions. These differences in senescence patterns were further exacerbated by the small pot size in this study (10 L). E36-1 is normally designated as a stay-green genotype, but the growth of this ‘high leaf area’, genotype in a small pot resulted in a senescent phenotype. Green leaf area retention was higher in B35 and KS19, and the loss of GLA started 14 days earlier in the WL E36-1 and R16 plants, compared to B35, with little change in KS19. Chlorophyll levels were higher in B35 and KS19 compared with R16 and E36-1 under WL conditions. FPSII, CO2 assimilation rate, leaf conductance, transpiration rate and leaf water use efficiency were higher in the stay-green genotypes under WL conditions compared to R16. Enzymes involved in leaf nitrogen metabolism and chlorophyll biosynthesis, and photosynthesis were retained at higher levels in the stay-green lines than in R16. Therefore, the stay-green mechanism resulted in reduced destruction of the photosynthetic apparatus, better nitrogen metabolism and chlorophyll turnover, and maintenance of active enzymes involved in photosynthesis.
Key words: Green leaf area, photosynthesis, Sorghum bicolor