Unmasking novel loci for internal phosphorus utilization efficiency in rice germplasm through genome-wide association analysis
Depletion of non-renewable rock phosphate reserves and phosphorus (P) fertilizer price increases has renewed interest in breeding P-efficient varieties. Internal P utilization efficiency (PUE) is of prime interest because there has been no progress to date in breeding for high PUE. We characterized the genotypic variation for PUE present within the rice gene pool by using a hydroponic system that assured equal plant P uptake, followed by mapping of loci controlling PUE via Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS). Loci associated with PUE were mapped on chromosomes 1, 4, 11 and 12. The highest PUE was associated with a minor indica-specific haplotype on chromosome 1 and a rare aus-specific haplotype on chromosome 11. Comparative variant and expression analysis for genes contained within the chromosome 1 haplotype identified high priority candidate genes. Differences in coding regions and expression patterns between genotypes of contrasting haplotypes, suggested functional alterations for two predicted nucleic acid-interacting proteins that are likely causative for the observed differences in PUE. The loci reported here are the first identified for PUE in any crop that is not confounded by differential P uptake among genotypes. Importantly, modern rice varieties lacked haplotypes associated with superior PUE, and would thus benefit from targeted introgressions of these loci from traditional donors to improve plant growth in phosphorus-limited cropping systems.