BackgroundWheat (Triticum ssp.) is an important food source for humans in many regions around the world. However, the ability to understand and modify gene function for crop improvement is hindered by the lack of available genomic resources. TILLING is a powerful reverse genetics approach that combines chemical mutagenesis with a high-throughput screen for mutations. Wheat is specially well-suited for TILLING due to the high mutation densities tolerated by polyploids, which allow for very efficient screens. Despite this, few TILLING populations are currently available. In addition, current TILLING screening protocols require high-throughput genotyping platforms, limiting their use.
ResultsWe developed mutant populations of pasta and common wheat and organized them for TILLING. To simplify and decrease costs, we developed a non-denaturing polyacrylamide gel set-up that uses ethidium bromide to detect fragments generated by crude celery juice extract digestion of heteroduplexes. This detection method had similar sensitivity as traditional LI-COR screens, suggesting that it represents a valid alternative. We developed genome-specific primers to circumvent the presence of multiple homoeologous copies of our target genes. Each mutant library was characterized by TILLING multiple genes, revealing high mutation densities in both the hexaploid (~1/38 kb) and tetraploid (~1/51 kb) populations for 50% GC targets. These mutation frequencies predict that screening 1,536 lines for an effective target region of 1.3 kb with 50% GC content will result in ~52 hexaploid and ~39 tetraploid mutant alleles. This implies a high probability of obtaining knock-out alleles (P = 0.91 for hexaploid, P = 0.84 for tetraploid), in addition to multiple missense mutations. In total, we identified over 275 novel alleles in eleven targeted gene/genome combinations in hexaploid and tetraploid wheat and have validated the presence of a subset of them in our seed stock.
ConclusionWe have generated reverse genetics TILLING resources for pasta and bread wheat and achieved a high mutation density in both populations. We also developed a modified screening method that will lower barriers to adopt this promising technology. We hope that the use of this reverse genetics resource will enable more researchers to pursue wheat functional genomics and provide novel allelic diversity for wheat improvement.