Exploiting Historical Data and Diverse Germplasm to Increase Maize Grain Yield in Texas



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The U.S. is the largest maize producer in the world with a production of 300 million tons in 2012. Approximately 86% of the maize production is focused on the Midwestern states. The rest of the production is focused in the Southern states, where Texas is the largest maize producer. Grain yield in Texas ranges from 18 tons/ha in the irrigated production zones to 3 tons/ha in the dryland production zones. As a result, grain yield has increased slowly because of the poor production in the non-irrigated acres. Methods to improve the grain yield in Texas is to breed for maize varieties adapted to Texas growing conditions, including mapping genes that can be incorporated into germplasm through marker assisted selection. This dissertation includes two separate projects that exploit historical data and maize diversity to increase grain yield in Texas.

For the first project, a large dataset collected by Texas AgriLife program was analyzed to elucidate past trends and future hints on how to improve maize yield within Texas. This study confirmed previous reports that the rate of increase for grain yield in Texas is less than the rate observed in the Midwestern US.

For the second project, a candidate gene and whole genome association mapping analysis was performed for drought and aflatoxin resistance in maize. In order to do so, maize inbred lines from a diversity panel were testcrossed to isogenic versions of Tx714. The hybrids were evaluated under irrigated and non-irrigated conditions. The irrigated trials were inoculated with Aspergillus flavus and the aflatoxin level was quantified. This study found that the gene ZmLOX4 was associated with days to silk, and the gene ZmLOX5 gene was associated with plant and ear height. In addition, this study identified 13 QTL variants for grain yield, plant height, days to anthesis and days to silk. Furthermore, this study shows that diverse maize inbred lines can make hybrids that out yield commercial hybrids under heat and drought stress. Therefore, there are useful genes present in these diverse lines that can be exploited in maize breeding programs