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Genetic And Physiological Characterization Of A Calcium Deficiency Phenotype In Maize

Yanli Wang, Lais Bastos Martins, Shannon Sermons, Peter Balint-Kurti

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Calcium (Ca) is an essential plant nutrient, required for signaling, cell wall fortification and growth and development. Calcium deficiency (Ca-deficiency) in maize causes leaf tip rot and a so-called “bull-whipping” or “buggy-whipping” phenotype. Seedlings of the maize line B73 displayed these Ca-deficiency-like symptoms when grown in the greenhouse with excess fertilizer during the winter months, while seedlings of the Mo17 maize line did not display these symptoms under the same conditions. These differential phenotypes could be recapitulated in ‘mini-hydroponic’ systems in the laboratory in which high ammonium, but not nitrate, levels induced the symptoms in B73 but not Mo17 seedlings. Consistent with this phenotype being caused by Ca-deficiency, addition of Ca2+ completely relieved the symptoms. These data suggest that ammonium reduces the seedling’s ability to absorb calcium, which causes the Ca-deficiency phenotype, and that this trait varies among genotypes. A recombinant inbred line (RIL) population derived from a B73 x Mo17 cross was used to map quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with the Ca-deficiency phenotype. QTL associated with variation in susceptibility to Ca-deficiency were detected on chromosomes 1, 2, 3, 6 which explained between 3.30–9.94% of the observed variation. Several genes predicted to bind or be activated by calcium map to these QTL on chromosome 1, 2, 6. These results describe for the first time the genetics of Ca-deficiency symptoms in maize and in plants in general.