Date of this Version
Santos, T.d.O.; Amaral Junior, A.T.d.; Bispo, R.B.; Bernado, W.d.P.; Simão, B.R.; de Lima, V.J.; Freitas, M.S.M.; Mora-Poblete, F.; Trindade, R.d.S.; Kamphorst, S.H.; et al. Exploring the Potential of Heterosis to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Popcorn Plants. Plants 2023, 12, 2135. https://doi.org/ 10.3390/plants12112135
Nitrogen is crucial for plant growth and development, and improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is a viable strategy for reducing dependence on nitrogen inputs and promoting sustainability. While the benefits of heterosis in corn are well known, the physiological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon in popcorn are less understood. We aimed to investigate the effects of heterosis on growth and physiological traits in four popcorn lines and their hybrids under two contrasting nitrogen conditions. We evaluated morpho-agronomic and physiological traits such as leaf pigments, the maximum photochemical efficiency of PSII, and leaf gas exchange. Components associated with NUE were also evaluated. N deprivation caused reductions of up to 65% in terms of plant architecture, 37% in terms of leaf pigments, and 42% in terms of photosynthesis-related traits. Heterosis had significant effects on growth traits, NUE, and foliar pigments, particularly under low soil nitrogen conditions. N-utilization efficiency was found to be the mechanism favoring superior hybrid performance for NUE. Non-additive genetic effects were predominant in controlling the studied traits, indicating that exploring heterosis is the most effective strategy for obtaining superior hybrids to promote NUE. The findings are relevant and beneficial for agro farmers seeking sustainable agricultural practices and improved crop productivity through the optimization of nitrogen utilization.