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Maize smart-canopy architecture enhances yield at high densities

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Increasing planting density is a key strategy to enhance maize yields1-3. An ideotype for dense planting requires a ‘smart canopy’ with leaf angles at different canopy layers differentially optimized to maximize light interception and photosynthesis4-6, amongst other features. Here, we identified leaf angle architecture of smart canopy 1 (lac1), a natural mutant possessing upright upper leaves, less erect middle leaves and relatively flat lower leaves. lac1 has improved photosynthetic capacity and weakened shade-avoidance responses under dense planting. lac1 encodes a brassinosteroid C-22 hydroxylase that predominantly regulates upper leaf angle. Phytochrome A photoreceptors accumulate in shade and interact with the transcription factor RAVL1 to promote its degradation via the 26S proteasome, thereby attenuating RAVL1 activation of lac1 and reducing brassinosteroid levels. This ultimately decreases upper leaf angle in dense fields. Large-scale field trials demonstrate lac1 boosts maize yields under high densities. To quickly introduce lac1 into breeding germplasm, we transformed a haploid inducer and recovered homozygous lac1 edits from 20 diverse inbred lines. The tested doubled haploids uniformly acquired smart-canopy-like plant architecture. We provide an important target and an accelerated strategy for developing high-density-tolerant cultivars, with lac1 serving as a genetic chassis for further engineering of a smart canopy in maize.

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Correspondence to Jigang Li or Feng Tian.

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Tian, J., Wang, C., Chen, F. et al. Maize smart-canopy architecture enhances yield at high densities. Nature (2024).

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