Insights into the genetic architecture of complex traits in Napier grass (Cenchrus purpureus) and QTL regions governing forage biomass yield, water use efficiency and feed quality traits
Napier grass is the most important perennial tropical grass native to Sub-Saharan Africa and widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, primarily as a forage crop for animal feed, but with potential as an energy crop and in a wide range of other areas. Genomic resources have recently been developed for Napier grass that need to be deployed for genetic improvement and molecular dissection of important agro-morphological and feed quality traits. From a diverse set of Napier grass genotypes assembled from two independent collections, a subset of 84 genotypes (although a small population size, the genotypes were selected to best represent the genetic diversity of the collections) were selected and evaluated for 2 years in dry (DS) and wet (WS) seasons under three soil moisture conditions: moderate water stress in DS (DS-MWS); severe water stress in DS (DS-SWS) and, under rainfed (RF) conditions in WS (WS-RF). Data for agro-morphological and feed quality traits, adjusted for the spatial heterogeneity in the experimental blocks, were collected over a 2-year period from 2018 to 2020. A total of 135,706 molecular markers were filtered, after removing markers with missing values >10% and a minor allele frequency (MAF) <5%, from the high-density genome-wide markers generated previously using the genotyping by sequencing (GBS) method of the DArTseq platform. A genome-wide association study (GWAS), using two different mixed linear model algorithms implemented in the GAPIT R package, identified more than 35 QTL regions and markers associated with agronomic, morphological, and water-use efficiency traits. QTL regions governing purple pigmentation and feed quality traits were also identified. The identified markers will be useful in the genetic improvement of Napier grass through the application of marker-assisted selection and for further characterization and map-based cloning of the QTLs.