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Identification of genetic loci associated with forage quality in response to water deficit in autotetraploid alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)

Sen Lin, Cesar Augusto Medina, Bill Boge, Jinguo Hu, Steven Fransen, Steven Norberg, Long-Xi Yu
BMC plant biology 2020 v.20 no.1 pp. 303
Medicago sativa, agronomic traits, alfalfa, autotetraploidy, deficit irrigation, drought tolerance, forage crops, genes, genetic background, genetic improvement, genetic markers, genome-wide association study, genotyping by sequencing, loci, marker-assisted selection, nutritive value, phenotypic plasticity, plant adaptation, quantitative trait loci, single nucleotide polymorphism, soil water deficit, water stress
BACKGROUND: Alfalfa has been cultivated in many regions around the world as an important forage crop due to its nutritive value to livestock and ability to adapt to various environments. However, the genetic basis by which plasticity of quality-relevant traits influence alfalfa adaption to different water conditions remain largely unknown. RESULTS: In the present study, 198 accessions of alfalfa of the core collection for drought tolerance were evaluated for 26 forage quality traits in a field trial under an imposed deficit irrigation gradient. Regression analysis between quality traits and water stress revealed that values of fiber-related traits were negatively correlated with values of energy-related traits as water deficit increased. More than one hundred significant markers associated with forage quality under different water treatments were identified using genome-wide association studies with genotyping by sequencing. Among them, 131 markers associated with multiple traits in all the water deficit treatments. Most of the associated markers were dependent to the levels of water deficit, suggesting genetic controls for forage quality traits were dependent to the stress treatment. Twenty-four loci associated with forage quality were annotated to functional genes that may play roles in cell development or in response to water stress. CONCLUSIONS: This study addressed the genetic base of phenotypic variation of forage quality traits under water deficit. The SNP markers identified in this study will be useful in marker-assisted selection for the genetic improvement of alfalfa with enhanced drought tolerance while maintaining forage quality.