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Phenotyping stomatal closure by thermal imaging for GWAS and TWAS of water use efficiency-related genes


Stomata allow CO2 uptake by leaves for photosynthetic assimilation at the cost of water vapor loss to the atmosphere. The opening and closing of stomata in response to fluctuations in light intensity regulate CO2 and water fluxes and are essential for maintaining water-use efficiency (WUE). However, a little is known about the genetic basis for natural variation in stomatal movement, especially in C4 crops. This is partly because the stomatal response to a change in light intensity is difficult to measure at the scale required for association studies. Here, we used high-throughput thermal imaging to bypass the phenotyping bottleneck and assess 10 traits describing stomatal conductance (gs) before, during and after a stepwise decrease in light intensity for a diversity panel of 659 sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) accessions. Results from thermal imaging significantly correlated with photosynthetic gas exchange measurements. gs traits varied substantially across the population and were moderately heritable (h2 up to 0.72). An integrated genome-wide and transcriptome-wide association study identified candidate genes putatively driving variation in stomatal conductance traits. Of the 239 unique candidate genes identified with the greatest confidence, 77 were putative orthologs of Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) genes related to functions implicated in WUE, including stomatal opening/closing (24 genes), stomatal/epidermal cell development (35 genes), leaf/vasculature development (12 genes), or chlorophyll metabolism/photosynthesis (8 genes). These findings demonstrate an approach to finding genotype-to-phenotype relationships for a challenging trait as well as candidate genes for further investigation of the genetic basis of WUE in a model C4 grass for bioenergy, food, and forage production.

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