GWAS identifies genetic loci underlying nitrogen responsiveness in the climate resilient C4 model Setaria italica (L.)
Introduction: N responsiveness is the capacity to perceive and induce morpho-physiological adaptation to external and internal Nitrogen (N). Crop productivity is propelled by N fertilizer and requires the breeding/selection of cultivars with intrinsically high N responsiveness. This trait has many advantages in being more meaningful in commercial/environmental context, facilitating in-season N management and not being inversely correlated with N availability over processes regulating NUE. Current lack of its understanding at the physio-genetic basis is an impediment to select for cultivars with a predictably high N response. Objectives: To dissect physio-genetic basis of N responsiveness in 142 diverse population of foxtail millet, Setaria italica (L.) by employing contrasting N fertilizer nutrition regimes. Methods: We phenotyped S. italica accessions for major yield related traits under low (N10, N25) and optimal (N100) growth conditions and genotyped them to subsequently perform a genome-wide association study to identify genetic loci associated with nitrogen responsiveness trait. Groups of accessions showing contrasting trait performance and allelic forms of specific linked genetic loci (showing haplotypes) were further accessed for N dependent transcript abundances of their proximal genes. Results: Our study show that N dependent yield rise in S. italica is driven by grain number whose responsiveness to N availability is genetically underlined. We identify 22 unique SNP loci strongly associated with this trait out of which six exhibit haplotypes and consistent allelic variation between lines with contrasting N dependent grain number response and panicle architectures. Furthermore, differential transcript abundances of specific genes proximally linked to these SNPs in same lines is indicative of their N dependence in a genotype specific manner. Conclusion: The study demonstrates the value/ potential of N responsiveness as a selection trait and identifies key genetic components underlying the trait in S. italica. This has major implications for improving crop N sustainability and food security.