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Transcriptional signatures modulating shoot apical meristem morphometric and plant architectural traits enhance yield and productivity in chickpea

Narnoliya, Laxmi, Basu, Udita, Bajaj, Deepak, Malik, Naveen, Thakro, Virevol, Daware, Anurag, Sharma, Akash, Tripathi, Shailesh, Hegde, Venkatraman S., Upadhyaya, Hari D., Singh, Ashok K., Tyagi, Akhilesh K., Parida, Swarup K.
Theplant journal 2019 v.98 no.5 pp. 864-883
agronomic traits, alleles, apical meristems, binding sites, chickpeas, crops, cultivars, farmers, food security, gene expression regulation, genetic improvement, genome-wide association study, genomics, haplotypes, introgression, isogenic lines, land use, messenger RNA, molecular cloning, morphometry, phenotype, plant density, plant height, planting density, population growth, quantitative trait loci, stem cells, transcription (genetics), transcription factors
Plant height (PH) and plant width (PW), two of the major plant architectural traits determining the yield and productivity of a crop, are defined by diverse morphometric characteristics of the shoot apical meristem (SAM). The identification of potential molecular tags from a single gene that simultaneously modulates these plant/SAM architectural traits is therefore prerequisite to achieve enhanced yield and productivity in crop plants, including chickpea. Large‐scale multienvironment phenotyping of the association panel and mapping population have ascertained the efficacy of three vital SAM morphometric trait parameters, SAM width, SAM height and SAM area, as key indicators to unravel the genetic basis of the wide PW and PH trait variations observed in desi chickpea. This study integrated a genome‐wide association study (GWAS); quantitative trait locus (QTL)/fine‐mapping and map‐based cloning with molecular haplotyping; transcript profiling; and protein‐DNA interaction assays for the dissection of plant architectural traits in chickpea. These exertions delineated natural alleles and superior haplotypes from a CabHLH121 transcription factor (TF) gene within the major QTL governing PW, PH and SAM morphometric traits. A genome‐wide protein‐DNA interaction assay assured the direct binding of a known stem cell master regulator, CaWUS, to the WOX‐homeodomain TF binding sites of a CabHLH121 gene and its constituted haplotypes. The differential expression of CaWUS and transcriptional regulation of its target CabHLH121 gene/haplotypes were apparent, suggesting their collective role in altering SAM morphometric characteristics and plant architectural traits in the contrasting near isogenic lines (NILs). The NILs introgressed with a superior haplotype of a CabHLH121 exhibited optimal PW and desirable PH as well as enhanced yield and productivity without compromising any component of agronomic performance. These molecular signatures of the CabHLH121 TF gene have the potential to regulate both PW and PH traits through the modulation of proliferation, differentiation and maintenance of the meristematic stem cell population in the SAM; therefore, these signatures will be useful in the translational genomic study of chickpea genetic enhancement. The restructured cultivars with desirable PH (semidwarf) and PW will ensure maximal planting density in a specified cultivable field area, thereby enhancing the overall yield and productivity of chickpea. This can essentially facilitate the achievement of better remunerative outputs by farmers with rational land use, therefore ensuring global food security in the present scenario of an increasing population density and shrinking per capita land area.