Multiple interval QTL mapping and searching for PSTOL1 homologs associated with root morphology, biomass accumulation and phosphorus content in maize seedlings under low-P

Gabriel C Azevedo, Adriana Cheavegatti-Gianotto, Bárbara F Negri, Bárbara Hufnagel, Luciano da Costa E Silva, Jurandir V Magalhaes, Antonio Augusto F Garcia, Ubiraci G P Lana, Sylvia M de Sousa, Claudia T Guimaraes
BMC Plant Biology 2015, 15: 172

BACKGROUND: Modifications in root morphology are important strategies to maximize soil exploitation under phosphorus starvation in plants. Here, we used two multiple interval models to map QTLs related to root traits, biomass accumulation and P content in a maize RIL population cultivated in nutrient solution. In addition, we searched for putative maize homologs to PSTOL1, a gene responsible to enhance early root growth, P uptake and grain yield in rice and sorghum.

RESULTS: Based on path analysis, root surface area was the root morphology component that most strongly contributed to total dry weight and to P content in maize seedling under low-P availability. Multiple interval mapping models for single (MIM) and multiple traits (MT-MIM) were combined and revealed 13 genomic regions significantly associated with the target traits in a complementary way. The phenotypic variances explained by all QTLs and their epistatic interactions using MT-MIM (23.4 to 35.5 %) were higher than in previous studies, and presented superior statistical power. Some of these QTLs were coincident with QTLs for root morphology traits and grain yield previously mapped, whereas others harbored ZmPSTOL candidate genes, which shared more than 55 % of amino acid sequence identity and a conserved serine/threonine kinase domain with OsPSTOL1. Additionally, four ZmPSTOL candidate genes co-localized with QTLs for root morphology, biomass accumulation and/or P content were preferentially expressed in roots of the parental lines that contributed the alleles enhancing the respective phenotypes.

CONCLUSIONS: QTL mapping strategies adopted in this study revealed complementary results for single and multiple traits with high accuracy. Some QTLs, mainly the ones that were also associated with yield performance in other studies, can be good targets for marker-assisted selection to improve P-use efficiency in maize. Based on the co-localization with QTLs, the protein domain conservation and the coincidence of gene expression, we selected novel maize genes as putative homologs to PSTOL1 that will require further validation studies.

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