A scalable phenotyping approach for female floral organ development and senescence in the absence of pollination in wheat.

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In the absence of pollination, female reproductive organs senesce, leading to an irrevocable loss in the reproductive potential of the flower, which directly affects seed set. In self-pollinating crops like wheat (Triticum aestivum), the post-anthesis viability of unpollinated carpels has been overlooked, despite its importance for hybrid seed production systems. To advance our knowledge of carpel development in the absence of pollination, we created a high-throughput phenotyping approach to quantify stigma and ovary morphology. We demonstrate the suitability of the approach, which uses light-microscopy imaging and machine learning, for the analysis of floral organ traits in field-grown plants using fresh and fixed samples. We show that the unpollinated carpel undergoes a well-defined initial growth phase, followed by a peak phase in which stigma area reaches its maximum and the radial expansion of the ovary slows, and a final deterioration phase. These developmental dynamics were consistent across years and could be used to classify male-sterile cultivars. This phenotyping approach provides a new tool for examining carpel development, which we hope will advance research into female fertility of wheat.