Sanchez-Bragado, R.; Molero, G.; Reynolds, M.P.; Araus, J.L.
During grain filling in C3 cereals, the shoot (particularly the flag leaf) and the ear are believed to play major roles as sources of assimilates. However, both the cost and the intrusive nature of most of the methodologies available to investigate this have prevented conclusive results being obtained. This study compared the carbon isotope composition (δ13C) in its natural abundance in mature kernels with the δ13C of the water-soluble fraction of the peduncle, glumes, and awns to assess the relative contribution of the shoot (understood as the whole set of photosynthetic organs below the peduncle) and ear to grain filling in a set of highly productive wheat lines from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico, under good agronomic conditions. In overall terms, the contribution of the ear was greater in comparison with that of the shoot. The specific contribution of the flag leaf blade to grain filling was also assessed by comparing the δ13C of grains with the δ13C of the water-soluble fraction of the flag leaf and the awns. The contribution of the flag leaf was minor, ranging between 3 and 18%. Complementary analyses performed such as gas-exchange rates and the accumulated water-soluble carbohydrates in both organs and light intercepted by the canopy at different strata suggested that the ear has a photosynthetic capacity at least comparable to that of the flag leaf. In this sense, selection for a higher contribution of ear photosynthesis to grain yield in breeding programmes could be addressed with the use of stable isotopes.
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