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QTL mapping and transcriptome analysis of cowpea reveals candidate genes for root-knot nematode resistance.


Cowpea is one of the most important food and forage legumes in drier regions of the tropics and subtropics. However, cowpea yield worldwide is markedly below the known potential due to abiotic and biotic stresses, including parasitism by root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp., RKN). Two resistance genes with dominant effect, Rk and Rk2, have been reported to provide resistance against RKN in cowpea. Despite their description and use in breeding for resistance to RKN and particularly genetic mapping of the Rk locus, the exact genes conferring resistance to RKN remain unknown. In the present work, QTL mapping using recombinant inbred line (RIL) population 524B x IT84S-2049 segregating for a newly mapped locus and analysis of the transcriptome changes in two cowpea near-isogenic lines (NIL) were used to identify candidate genes for Rk and the newly mapped locus. A major QTL, designated QRk-vu9.1, associated with resistance to Meloidogyne javanica reproduction, was detected and mapped on linkage group LG9 at position 13.37 cM using egg production data. Transcriptome analysis on resistant and susceptible NILs 3 and 9 days after inoculation revealed up-regulation of 109 and 98 genes and down-regulation of 110 and 89 genes, respectively, out of 19,922 unique genes mapped to the common bean reference genome. Among the differentially expressed genes, four and nine genes were found within the QRk-vu9.1 and QRk-vu11.1 QTL intervals, respectively. Six of these genes belong to the TIR-NBS-LRR family of resistance genes and three were upregulated at one or more time-points. Quantitative RT-PCR validated gene expression to be positively correlated with RNA-seq expression pattern for eight genes. Future functional analysis of these cowpea genes will enhance our understanding of Rk-mediated resistance and identify the specific gene responsible for the resistance.

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