Exploring genetic methods to improve yield in grain crops such as rice (Oryza sativa) is essential to help meet the needs of the increasing population. Here, we report that rice ONAC096 affects grain yield by regulating leaf senescence and panicle number. ONAC096 expression increased rapidly in rice leaves upon the initiation of aging- and dark-induced senescence. Two independent T-DNA insertion mutants (onac096-1 and onac096-2) with downregulated ONAC096 expression retained their green leaf color during natural senescence in the field, thus extending their photosynthetic capacity. Reverse-transcription quantitative PCR analysis showed that ONAC096 upregulated genes controlling chlorophyll degradation and leaf senescence. Repressed OsCKX2 (encoding cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase) expression in the onac096 mutants led to a 15% increase in panicle number without affecting grain weight or fertility. ONAC096 mediates abscisic acid (ABA)-induced leaf senescence by upregulating the ABA signaling genes ABA INSENSITIVE5 and ENHANCED EM LEVEL. The onac096 mutants showed a 16% increase in grain yield, highlighting the potential for using this gene to increase grain production.
Keywords: NAM/ATAF1/2/CUC2 (NAC); abscisic acid (ABA); grain yield; leaf senescence; rice; tillering.