Phenomics enabled genetic dissection of complex traits in wheat breeding



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A central question in modern biology is to understand the genotype-to-phenotype (G2P) link, that is, how the genetics of an organism results in specific characteristics. However, prediction of phenotypes from genotypes is a difficult problem due to the complex nature of genomes, the environment, and their interactions. While the recent advancements in genome sequencing technologies have provided almost unlimited access to high-density genetic markers, large-scale rapid and accurate phenotyping of complex plant traits remains a major bottleneck. Here, we demonstrate field-based complex trait assessment approaches using a commercially available light-weight Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). By deploying novel data acquisition and processing pipelines, we quantified lodging, ground cover, and crop growth rate of 1745 advanced spring wheat lines at multiple time-points over the course of three field seasons at three field sites in South Asia. High correlations of digital measures to visual estimates and superior broad-sense heritability demonstrate these approaches are amenable for reproducible assessment of complex plant traits in large breeding nurseries. Using these validated high-throughput measurements, we applied genome-wide association and prediction models to assess the underlying genetic architecture and genetic control. Our results suggest a diffuse genetic architecture for lodging and ground cover in wheat, but heritable genetic variation for prediction and selection in breeding programs. The logistic regression-derived parameters of dynamic plant height exhibited strong physiological linkages with several developmental and agronomic traits, suggesting the potential targets of selection and the associated tradeoffs. Taken together, our highly reproducible approaches provide a proof-of-concept application of UAS-based phenomics that is scalable to tens-of-thousands of plots in breeding and genetic studies as will be needed to understand the G2P and increase the rate of gain for complex traits in crop breeding.



Unmanned aerial vehicle/systems, Triticum aestivum, High throughput phenotyping, Genome-wide association studies, Quantitative genetics, Genomics assisted wheat breeding

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Doctor of Philosophy


Genetics Interdepartmental Program

Major Professor

Jesse A. Poland