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Genome-Wide Association Mapping of Correlated Traits in Cassava: Dry Matter and Total Carotenoid Content

Cassava (Manihot esculenta (L.) Crantz) is a starchy root crop cultivated in the tropics for fresh consumption and commercial processing. Dry matter content and micronutrient density, particularly of provitamin A, traits that are negatively correlated, are among the primary selection objectives in cassava breeding. This study aimed at identifying genetic markers associated with these traits and uncovering the potential underlying cause of their negative correlation – whether linkage and/or pleiotropy. A genome-wide association mapping using 672 clones genotyped at 72,279 SNP loci was carried out. Root yellowness was used indirectly to assess variation in carotenoid content. Two major loci for root yellowness was identified on chromosome 1 at positions 24.1 and 30.5 Mbp. A single locus for dry matter content that co-located with the 24.1 Mbp peak for carotenoid content was identified. Haplotypes at these loci explained a large proportion of the phenotypic variability. Evidence of mega-base-scale linkage disequilibrium around the major loci of the two traits and detection of the major dry matter locus in independent analysis for the white- and yellow-root subpopulations suggests that physical linkage rather that pleiotropy is more likely to be the cause of the negative correlation between the target traits. Moreover, candidate genes for carotenoid (phytoene synthase) and starch biosynthesis (UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase and sucrose synthase) occurred in the vicinity of the identified locus at 24.1 Mbp. These findings elucidate on the genetic architecture of carotenoids and dry matter in cassava and provides an opportunity to accelerate genetic improvement of these traits.