A large nested association mapping population to map agronomic QTL and smallholder farmers preference in Ethiopian durum wheat
The Ethiopian plateau hosts thousands of durum wheat landraces cultivated in low input agriculture conducted by an estimated 70 million smallholder farmers. Having thoroughly characterized the phenotypic and molecular uniqueness of Ethiopian durum wheat landraces, we produced a large nested association mapping (NAM) population harnessing their mostly untapped diversity in a set of recombinant inbred lines (RIL). The NAM founders are 50 landraces providing valuable traits such as drought tolerance and resistance to pests, and maximizing molecular diversity. Each selected landrace was crossed to a durum wheat line with an international background (Asassa), establishing independent interconnected bi-parental families, for a total of 6,280 RILs currently in F8. The Ethiopian NAM is at once i) a powerful QTL mapping tool that will side the increasing availability of genomic tools in wheat towards high-throughput candidate genes identification, and ii) a large pre-breeding panel closing the gap between local and international materials. Here we discuss the molecular and phenotypic characterization of twelve NAM families, represented by 100 RILs each. The 1,200 NAM RIL showed elevated allelic variation and a genetic structure reminiscent of the breeding design followed. The NAM RILs were phenotyped for ten agronomic and five disease traits in multiple locations in the Ethiopian highlands. A quantitative method eliciting smallholder farmers traditional knowledge was used to record local farmers appreciation of NAM RILs in all phenotyping locations. We report that the superior genetic properties of the NAM can be used to map QTL for both agronomic and farmer traits with unprecedented precision. The most promising NAM RILs can be identified combining farmers appreciation and agronomic measures, and prioritized for introgression of Ethiopian landraces traits in breeding pipelines aiming at higher uptake and productivity in local agriculture.