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Mapping QTLs for Water-Use Efficiency Reveals the Potential Candidate Genes Involved in Regulating the Trait in Apple under Drought Stress

Haibo Wang, Shuang Zhao, Ke Mao, Qinglong Dong, Bowen Liang, Chao Li, Zhiwei Wei, Mingjun Li, Fengwang Ma.

BMC Plant Biology

DOI: 10.1186/s12870-018-1308-3

 

 

Abstract: Background: Improvement of water-use efficiency (WUE) can effectively reduce production losses caused by drought stress. A better understanding of the genetic determination of WUE in crops under drought stress has great potential value for developing cultivars adapted to arid regions. To identify the genetic loci associated with WUE and reveal genes responsible for the trait in apple, we aim to map the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for carbon isotope composition, the proxy for WUE, applying two contrasting irrigating regimes over the two-year experiment and search for the candidate genes encompassed in the mapped QTLs.

Results: We constructed a high-density genetic linkage map with 10,172 markers of apple, using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers obtained through restriction site-associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) and a final segregating population of 350 seedlings from the cross of Honeycrisp and Qinguan. In total, 33 QTLs were identified for carbon isotope composition in apple under both well-watered and drought-stressed conditions. Three QTLs were stable over 2 years under drought stress on linkage groups LG8, LG15 and LG16, as validated by Kompetitive Allele-Specific PCR (KASP) assays. In those validated QTLs, 258 genes were screened according to their Gene Ontology functional annotations. Among them, 28 genes were identified, which exhibited significant responses to drought stress in 'Honeycrisp' and/or 'Qinguan'. These genes are involved in signaling, photosynthesis, response to stresses, carbohydrate metabolism, protein metabolism and modification, hormone metabolism and transport, transport, respiration, transcriptional regulation, and development regulation. They, especially those for photoprotection and relevant signal transduction, are potential candidate genes connected with WUE regulation in drought-stressed apple.

Conclusions: We detected three stable QTLs for carbon isotope composition in apple under drought stress over 2 years, and validated them by KASP assay. Twenty-eight candidate genes encompassed in these QTLs were identified. These stable genetic loci and series of genes provided here serve as a foundation for further studies on marker-assisted selection of high WUE and regulatory mechanism of WUE in apple exposed to drought conditions, respectively.