Root system architecture of historical spring wheat cultivars is associated with alleles and transcripts of major functional genes
We evaluated root system architecture (RSA) of a set of 58 historical spring wheat cultivars from Pakistan representing 105 years of selection breeding. The evaluations were carried out under control and water-limited conditions using a high-throughput phenotyping system coupled with RhizoVision Explorer software. The cultivars were classified into three groups based on release year as cultivars released pre-1965, released between 1965 and 2000, and cultivars released post-2000. Under water-limited conditions a decline in 20 out of 25 RSA component traits was observed in pre-1965 cultivars group. Whereas cultivars released after the 1965, so-called green revolution period, showed a decline in 17 traits with significant increments in root length, depth, and steep angle frequency which are important root traits for resource-uptake under water-limited conditions. Similarly, cultivars released after 2000 indicated an increase in the number of roots, depth, diameter, surface area, and steep angle frequency. The coefficient of correlation analysis showed a positive correlation between root depth and yield-related traits under water-limited conditions. We also investigated the effects of green-revolution genes (Rht1) and some phenology-related genes such as DRO1, TaMOR, TaLTPs, TaSus-2B on RSA and identified significant associations of these genes with important root traits. There was strong selection pressure on DRO1 gene in cultivated wheat indicating the allele fixed in modern wheat cultivars is different from landraces. The expression of DRO1, and TaMOR were retrieved from an RNAseq experiment, and results were validated using qRT-PCR. The highest expression of DRO1 and TaMOR was found in Chakwal-50, a rainfed cultivar released in 2008, and MaxiPak-65 released in 1965. We conclude that there is a positive historic change in RSA after 1965 that might be attributed to genetic factors associated with favored RSA traits. Furthermore, we suggest root depth and steep angle as promising traits to withstand water-limited environments and may have implications in selection for breeding.