Nitrogen uptake and remobilization from pre- and post-anthesis stages contribute towards grain yield and grain protein concentration in wheat grown in limited nitrogen conditions

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Background In wheat, nitrogen (N) remobilization from vegetative tissues to developing grains largely depends ongenetic and environmental factors. The evaluation of genetic potential of crops under limited resource inputs such aslimited N supply would provide an opportunity to identify N-efficient lines with improved N utilisation efficiency andyield potential. We assessed the genetic variation in wheat recombinant inbred lines (RILs) for uptake, partitioning,and remobilization of N towards grain, its association with grain protein concentration (GPC) and grain yield.Methods We used the nested association mapping (NAM) population (195 lines) derived by crossing Paragon (P)with CIMMYT core germplasm (P × Cim), Baj (P × Baj), Watkins (P × Wat), and Wyalkatchem (P × Wya). These lines wereevaluated in the field for two seasons under limited N supply. The plant sampling was done at anthesis and physi-ological maturity stages. Various physiological traits were recorded and total N uptake and other N related indiceswere calculated. The grain protein deviation (GPD) was calculated from the regression of grain yield on GPC. Theselines were grouped into different clusters by hierarchical cluster analysis based on grain yield and N-remobilizationefficiency (NRE).Results The genetic variation in accumulation of biomass at both pre- and post-anthesis stages were correlatedwith grain-yield. The NRE significantly correlated with aboveground N uptake at anthesis (AGNa) and grain yield butnegatively associated with AGN at post-anthesis (AGNpa) suggesting higher N uptake till anthesis favours high Nremobilization during grain filling. Hierarchical cluster analysis of these RILs based on NRE and yield resulted in fourclusters, efficient (31), moderately efficient (59), moderately inefficient (58), and inefficient (47). In the N-efficient lines,AGNa contributed to 77% of total N accumulated in grains, while it was 63% in N-inefficient lines. Several N-efficientlines also exhibited positive grain protein deviation (GPD), combining high grain yield and GPC. Among crosses, theP × Cim were superior and N-efficient, while P × Wya responded poorly to low N input.