Roots are critical for plants to withstand environmental abiotic and biotic stresses. Wild taxa are often used as source of variation for improving root systems, as they are adapted to more stressful soil environments than their cultivated relatives. We studied the genetics of traits related to root biomass, root length, and root architecture (considering the primary/secondary and the tertiary root levels) in melon (Cucumis melo L.) in a 2-year assay by examining the root systems of mature plants in 91 F3 families derived from the cross between a wild accession, Pat 81 [C. melo ssp. agrestis (Naud) Pangalo], and a cultivated accession, `Piel de sapo' (C. melo ssp. melo L.). Despite the difficulties of working with adult plants, we found that Pat 81 and `Piel de sapo' differ greatly in their mature root systems, which is in concordance with the results previously obtained with young roots. Pat 81 developed roots with less biomass than `Piel de sapo', but this wild accession had more favorable root length and architectural traits: a higher density of framework roots, more uniformly distributed along the soil profile, longer laterals with a higher density of branches, and a higher number of root orders. This root structure is linked to a deeper rooting ability and to the capacity of exploiting a larger soil volume. The genetic analysis indicated that length and architectural traits are more stable than biomass traits, both between years and between developmental stages. Moderate to low broad- and narrow-sense heritabilites were found for root length and architectural traits, with most of the observed variation due to additive effects. Our results suggest that Pat 81 could be used as donor of valuable genes for increasing root length and improving the root architecture of cultivated melons, producing melons potentially more tolerant to soil stresses. The lack of phenotypic and genetic correlations between length and architectural parameters and root biomass suggest that root structure can be successfully improved without increasing carbon expenditures.
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