From promise to application: root traits for enhanced nutrient capture in rice breeding

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Wissuwa, M, Kretzschmar, T & Rose, TJ 2016, 'From promise to application: root traits for enhanced nutrient capture in rice breeding', Journal of Experimental Botany, April.

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Improving nutrient uptake is an objective in crop breeding, especially in tropical areas where infertile soils dominate and farmers may not have the resources to improve soil fertility through fertilizer application. Scientific endeavors to understand the genetic basis of nutrient acquisition have mostly followed reverse genetic approaches. This has undoubtedly led to improved understanding of basic principles in root development and nutrient transport. However, little evidence suggests that the genes identified are actively utilized in breeding programs, and the bottleneck has been the failure to establish links between allelic variation for identified genes and performance in the field. Screening experiments typically reveal large genotypic variation in performance under nutrient deficiency, strongly suggesting the presence of superior alleles for genes controlling root growth and/or nutrient uptake processes. Progress in sequencing technology has enabled characterizations of allelic variation across whole genomes and an international effort has recently culminated in the sequencing of 3000 rice genomes from the International Rice Research Institute genebank. Queries of the 3000 rice sequence database offer immediate possibilities to assess the extent to which allelic variation exists for candidate genes. By selecting subsets of accessions, allelic effects can be tested, diagnostic markers developed, and new donors identified. Technological and conceptual advances in phenotyping of root traits offer improved possibilities to assure that trait–allele associations are established in ways that link to field performance. Genotype-to-phenotype relationships can thus be predicted and tested with unprecedented precision, facilitating the discovery and transfer of beneficial nutrition-related alleles and associated markers into existing breeding pipelines.

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