A genome-wide SNP scan accelerates trait-regulatory genomic loci identification in chickpea
We identified 44844 high-quality SNPs by sequencing 92 diverse chickpea accessions belonging to a seed and pod trait-specific association panel using reference genome- and de novo-based GBS (genotyping-by-sequencing) assays. A GWAS (genome-wide association study) in an association panel of 211, including the 92 sequenced accessions, identified 22 major genomic loci showing significant association (explaining 23–47% phenotypic variation) with pod and seed number/plant and 100-seed weight. Eighteen trait-regulatory major genomic loci underlying 13 robust QTLs were validated and mapped on an intra-specific genetic linkage map by QTL mapping. A combinatorial approach of GWAS, QTL mapping and gene haplotype-specific LD mapping and transcript profiling uncovered one superior haplotype and favourable natural allelic variants in the upstream regulatory region of a CesA-type cellulose synthase (Ca_Kabuli_CesA3) gene regulating high pod and seed number/plant (explaining 47% phenotypic variation) in chickpea. The up-regulation of this superior gene haplotype correlated with increased transcript expression of Ca_Kabuli_CesA3 gene in the pollen and pod of high pod/seed number accession, resulting in higher cellulose accumulation for normal pollen and pollen tube growth. A rapid combinatorial genome-wide SNP genotyping-based approach has potential to dissect complex quantitative agronomic traits and delineate trait-regulatory genomic loci (candidate genes) for genetic enhancement in crop plants, including chickpea.