Soil salinity is a major constraint to sustainable crop production. Genetic improvements are needed for growing soybean in salinity-prone environments. Salt-tolerant soybean genotypes alleviate a reduction in photosynthesis and growth under saline conditions; however, the detailed mechanisms involved remain unclear. Here, we aimed to clarify how Na and Cl root-to-leaf transport is quantitatively regulated, and to identify whether photosynthetic tolerance depends on traits associated with either stomata or with mesophyll tissues. Two pairs of pot-grown soybean near-isogenic lines (NILs) consisting of tolerant and susceptible counterparts, derived from a cross between salt-tolerant FT-Abyara and salt-sensitive C01, were subjected to salinity treatment in a rainout greenhouse. Comparison of photosynthetic responses between genotypes indicated that genotypic differences in salinity tolerance depended on the ability for sustained CO2 assimilation in mesophyll tissues, rather than stomatal conductance. The ratio of photosynthetic rate to intercellular CO2 concentration (A/Ci) declined exponentially with increasing Na and Cl concentration regardless of genotype, but tolerant genotypes effectively kept both elements at significantly low levels. Under saline conditions, tolerant genotypes reduced Na and Cl content at the two transport pathways: from root to stem, and from stem to leaf, but the reduction of Cl at each pathway was only minor. These results suggest that integrating genetic capacity for Cl transport regulation and osmotic adjustment should be an important target in salinity-tolerance soybean breeding.
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