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Drought-induced changes in anthesis-silking interval are related to silk expansion: a spatio-temporal growth analysis in maize plants subjected to soil water deficit.

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Fuad-Hassan, A.; Tardieu, F.; Turc, O.

The growth and emergence of maize silks has a considerable importance in yield determination under drought conditions. Spatial and temporal patterns of the rates of tissue expansion and of cell division were characterized in silks of plants subjected to different soil water potentials. In all cases, silk development consisted of four phases: (1) cell division and tissue expansion occurred together uniformly all along the silk; (2) cell division progressively ceased from tip to base, while expansion remained spatially uniform including during the phase (3) after the cessation of cell division; and (4) as the silk emerged from the husks, expansion ceased in the emerged portion, probably because of direct evaporative demand, while the relative growth rate progressively decreased in the enclosed part. The rates of tissue expansion and cell division were reduced with water deficit, resulting in delayed silk emergence. The duration of cell division was not affected, and in all cases, the end of cell division in the silk coincided with anther dehiscence. The duration of phase 3, between the end of cell division and the arrest of cell growth in silk apex, considerably increased with water deficit. It corresponded to the anthesis-silking interval used by breeders to characterize the response of cultivars to stress.