Paving the path of durum: Identification of flowering genes and heterotic behavior for root vigor
Global food security is faced with many threats including population growth and changing climate. To cope with these threats a new paradigm shift is required to ensure sufficient and sustainable crop production. Hybrid technology could represent a partly strategic solution for durum wheat, but the understanding of its heterotic behavior is very limited. In this study, 53 F1 plants were produced via half diallel scheme and North Carolina design II, using as parental elite lines selected on the basis of their genetic distance. These hybrids along with their parents were evaluated for different physiological and root traits on a precision phenotyping platform (Lemnatec) at different levels of water stress. Additionally, a second root test was conducted in near field condition via a basket method to determine shallow or deep rooting behavior. Hybrids with the most heterotic combinations in terms of above and below ground biomass were identified. However, in order to ensure adequate pollination between heterotic parents, their flowering time must overlap. To identify good matching partners, a GWAS study was conducted to identify genomic regions associated with the control of flowering time in durum wheat. A total of 384 landraces and modern germplasm were assessed at 13 environments with different temperatures and day length throughout the season. Genotyping was conducted by 35K Axiom array to generate 8,173 polymorphic SNPs. In total, 12 significant QTLS for landraces and 17 QTLs for modern germplasm were identified consistently across environments. These two results when combined will allow to predict the best parental partners for hybrid production via markers screening on the basis of their genetic similarity to the most heterotic groups, and with matching flowering times.