Dissecting the Genetics of Early Vigour to Design Drought-Adapted Wheat
Due to the climate change and an increased frequency of drought, it is of enormous importance to identify and to develop traits that result in adaptation and in improvement of crop yield stability in drought-prone regions with low rainfall. Early vigour, defined as the rapid development of leaf area in early developmental stages, is reported to contribute to stronger plant vitality, which, in turn, can enhance resilience to erratic drought periods. Furthermore, early vigour improves weed competitiveness and nutrient uptake. Here, two sets of a multi-reference nested association mapping (MR-NAM) population of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum ssp. aestivum L.) were used to investigate early vigour in a rain-fed field environment for 3 years, and additionally assessed under controlled conditions in a greenhouse experiment. The normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) calculated from red/infrared light reflectance was used to quantify early vigour in the field, revealing a correlation (p < 0.05; r = 0.39) between the spectral measurement and the length of the second leaf. Under controlled environmental conditions, the measured projected leaf area, using a green-pixel counter, was also correlated to the leaf area of the second leaf (p < 0.05; r = 0.38), as well as to the recorded biomass (p < 0.01; r = 0.71). Subsequently, genetic determination of early vigour was tested by conducting a genome-wide association study (GWAS) for the proxy traits, revealing 42 markers associated with vegetation index and two markers associated with projected leaf area. There are several quantitative trait loci that are collocated with loci for plant developmental traits including plant height on chromosome 2D (log10 (P) = 3.19; PVE = 0.035), coleoptile length on chromosome 1B (–log10 (P) = 3.24; PVE = 0.112), as well as stay-green and vernalisation on chromosome 5A (–log10 (P) = 3.14; PVE = 0.115).