Maize is a staple food crop for millions of Africans. Despite this fact, African farmers have been harvesting average grain yield of not more than 2 t/ha while there is a potential of producing more than 10 t/ha. Drought is one of the major abiotic constraints contributing to this low productivity. Drought diminishes crop productivity mainly by causing premature leaf senescence. The ipt gene codes for isopentenyltransferase (IPT) enzyme which catalyzes the rate limiting step in the biosynthesis of cytokinin and has been shown to enhance tolerance to drought in transgenic crops by delaying drought-induced leaf senescence. This created interest to investigate if ipt gene can be useful in enhancing drought tolerance in locally adapted African tropical maize genotypes. The tropical maize inbred line CML216 was transformed with ipt gene using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation method. Five transgenic lines which were proved to be stably transformed through Southern blot analysis with copy number of 2 to 4 per event were developed. In drought assay carried out in the glass house, transgenic lines expressing the ipt gene showed tolerance to drought as revealed by delayed leaf senescence compared to the wild type plants. Transgenic plants maintained higher relative water content and total chlorophyll during the drought period and produced significantly higher mean grain yield of 44.3 g/plant while the wild type plants produced mean grain yield of 1.43 g/plant. It is proposed that the transgenic lines developed in this study can be further tested for tolerance to drought under contained field trials. Furthermore, transgenic lines developed can be used in breeding programs to improve drought tolerance in other commercial tropical maize genotypes through conventional breeding.
Key words: Cytokinin, delayed leaf senescence, drought inducible, CML216, ipt gene.
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