Genome-wide analyses reveal footprints of divergent selection and popping-related traits in CIMMYT’s maize inbred lines
Popcorn (Zea mays L. var. Everta) is the most ancient type of cultivated maize. However, there is little known about the genetics of popping-related traits based on genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) technology. Here, we characterized the phenotypic variation for seven popping-related traits in maize kernels among 526 CIMMYT inbred lines (CMLs). In total, 155 083 high-quality single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers were identified by a GBS approach. Several trait-associated loci were detected by genome-wide association study for color, popping expansion volume, shape, pericarp, flotation index, floury/vitreous, and protein content, explaining a majority of the observed phenotypic variance, and these were validated by a diverse panel comprising 764 tropical landrace accessions. Sixty two of the identified loci were recognized to have undergone selection. On average, there was a 55.27% frequency for alleles that promote popping in CMLs. Our work not only pinpoints previously unknown loci for popping-related traits, but also reveals that many of these loci have undergone selection. Beyond establishing a new benchmark for the genetics of popcorn, our study provides a foundation for gene discovery and breeding. It also presents evidence to investigate the role of a gradual loss of popping ability as a by-product of diversification of culinary uses throughout the evolution of teosinte–to–modern maize.