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Yield gains and associated changes in an early yellow bi-parental maize population following genomic selection for Striga resistance and drought tolerance

Background
Maize yield potential is rarely maximized in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) due to the devastating effects of drought stress and Striga hermonthica parasitism. This study was conducted to determine the gains in grain yield and associated changes in an early-maturing yellow bi-parental maize population (TZEI 17 x TZEI 11) F3 following genomic selection (GS) for improved grain yield, Striga resistance and drought tolerance. Fifty S1 lines were extracted from each of cycles C0, C1, C2 and C3 of the population and crossed to a tester TZEI 23 to generate 200 testcrosses. The testcrosses were evaluated under drought, artificial Striga-infested and optimal (free from Striga infestation and without limitation of water and nitrogen) environments in Nigeria, 2014-2017.

Results
Gains in grain yield of 498 kg ha− 1 cycle− 1 (16.9% cycle− 1) and 522 kg ha− 1 cycle− 1 (12.6% cycle− 1) were obtained under Striga-infested and optimal environments, respectively. The yield gain under Striga-infested environments was associated with increased plant and ear heights as well as improvement in root lodging resistance, husk cover, ear aspect and Striga tolerance. Under optimal environments, yield gain was accompanied by increase in plant and ear heights along with improvement of husk cover and ear rot resistance. In contrast, genomic selection did not improve grain yield under drought but resulted in delayed flowering, poor pollen-silk synchrony during flowering and increased ear height. Genetic variances and heritabilities for most measured traits were not significant for the selection cycles under the research environments. Ear aspect was a major contributor to grain yield under all research environments and could serve as an indirect selection criterion for simultaneous improvement of grain yield under drought, Striga and optimal environments.

Conclusion
This study demonstrated that genomic selection was effective for yield improvement in the bi-parental maize population under Striga-infested environments and resulted in concomitant yield gains under optimal environments. However, due to low genetic variability of most traits in the population, progress from further genomic selection could only be guaranteed if new sources of genes for Striga resistance and drought tolerance are introgressed into the population.