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Association mapping by aerial drone reveals 213 genetic associations for Sorghum bicolor biomass traits under drought



Sorghum bicolor is the fifth most commonly grown cereal worldwide and is remarkable for its drought and abiotic stress tolerance. For these reasons and the large size of biomass varieties, it has been proposed as a bioenergy crop. However, little is known about the genes underlying sorghum's abiotic stress tolerance and biomass yield.


To uncover the genetic basis of drought tolerance in sorghum at a genome-wide level, we undertook a high-density phenomics genome wide association study (GWAS) in which 648 diverse sorghum lines were phenotyped at two locations in California once per week by drone over the course of a growing season. Biomass, height, and leaf area were measured by drone for individual field plots, subjected to two drought treatments and a well-watered control. The resulting dataset of ~ 171,000 phenotypic data-points was analyzed along with 183,989 genotype by sequence markers to reveal 213 high-quality, replicated, and conserved GWAS associations.


The genomic intervals defined by the associations include many strong candidate genes, including those encoding heat shock proteins, antifreeze proteins, and other domains recognized as important to plant stress responses. The markers identified by our study can be used for marker assisted selection for drought tolerance and biomass. In addition, our results are a significant step toward identifying specific sorghum genes controlling drought tolerance and biomass yield.

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