Crop tolerance to crowding stress, specifically plant population density, is an important target to improve productivity in processing sweet corn. Due to limited knowledge of biological mechanisms involved in crowding stress in sweet corn, a study was conducted to 1) investigate phenotypic and transcriptional response of sweet corn hybrids under different plant densties, 2) compare the crowding stress response mechanisms between hybrids and 3) identify candidate biological mechanisms involved in crowding stress response. Yield per hectare of a tolerant hybrid (DMC21-84) increased with plant density. Yield per hectare of a sensitive hybrid (GSS2259P) declined with plant density. Transcriptional analysis found 694, 537, 359 and 483 crowding stress differentially expressed genes (DEGs) for GSS2259P at the Fruit Farm and Vegetable Farm and for DMC21-84 at the Fruit Farm and Vegetable Farm, respectively. Strong transcriptional change due to hybrid was observed. Functional analyses of DEGs involved in crowding stress also revealed that protein folding and photosynthetic processes were common response mechanisms for both hybrids. However, DEGs related to starch biosynthetic, carbohydrate metabolism, and ABA related processes were significant only for DMC21-84, suggesting the genes have closer relationship to plant productivity under stress than other processes. These results collectively provide initial insight into potential crowding stress response mechanisms in sweet corn.
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