Wild Oryza species as potential sources of drought-adaptive traits

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Wild species of Oryza may serve as sources of superior drought tolerance alleles for cultivated rice. In a series of three screenhouse experiments, we compared traits associated with leaf water status, stomatal conductance, membrane stability, and root development in several wild Oryza accessions and O. sativa cultivars, when grown under well-watered or water-deficient conditions. One accession of O. longistaminata had greater stomatal conductance under stress and maintained leaf elongation better under stress than most other genotypes. Several upland-rice cultivars from the japonica subspecies also maintained greater conductance and leaf expansion than an indica cultivar or O. rufipogon accessions. Leaves of an accession of O. latifolia were particularly sensitive to water deficit. Oryza longistaminata and several O. rufipogon accessions had greater membrane stability, measured as electrolyte leakage from leaf disks after heat treatment, than cultivated rice. Drought treatments tended to reduce the levels of electrolyte leakage observed. Wild species had levels of osmotic adjustment under stress that were similar to O. sativa. Entries differed in the growth of roots with water deficit: O. longistaminata accessions and some japonica cultivars showed either an increase in total root mass or an increase in the proportion of root mass in deeper soil levels when water deficit was imposed, whereas indica cultivars and O. rufipogon accessions did not. Changes in root mass and distribution were correlated with values of stomatal conductance and leaf elongation; this suggests that leaf measurements made at key times in the drying cycle may reveal possible genetic differences in rooting behavior, which are otherwise difficult to measure. These studies indicate that O. longistaminata and O. rufipogon may serve as sources of novel alleles for improved leaf traits under drought stress–specifically, for maintenance of leaf elongation, stomatal conductance, and membrane stability. Alleles for improved root growth and distribution under water deficit exist in some japonica rice cultivars.

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