Background: High water use efficiency is essential to water-saving cropping. Morphological traits that affect photosynthetic water use efficiency are not well known. We examined whether leaf hairiness improves photosynthetic water use efficiency in rice. Results: A chromosome segment introgression line (IL-hairy) of wild Oryza nivara (Acc. IRGC105715) with the genetic background of Oryza sativa cultivar ‘IR24’ had high leaf pubescence (hair). The leaf hairs developed along small vascular bundles. Linkage analysis in BC5F2 and F3 populations showed that the trait was governed by a single gene, designated BLANKET LEAF (BKL), on chromosome 6. IL-hairy plants had a warmer leaf surface in sunlight, probably due to increased boundary layer resistance. They had a lower transpiration rate under moderate and high light intensities, resulting in higher photosynthetic water use efficiency. Conclusion: Introgression of BKL on chromosome 6 from O. nivara improved photosynthetic water use efficiency in the genetic background of IR24.
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