Linkage disequilibrium based association mapping of fiber quality traits in G. hirsutum L. variety germplasm
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Cotton is the world’s leading cash crop, but it lags behind other major crops for marker-assisted breeding due to limited polymorphisms and a genetic bottleneck through historic domestication. This underlies a need for characterization, tagging, and utilization of existing natural polymorphisms in cotton germplasm collections. Here we report genetic diversity, population characteristics, the extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD), and association mapping of fiber quality traits using 202 microsatellite marker primer pairs in 335 G. hirsutum germplasm grown in two diverse environments, Uzbekistan and Mexico. At the significance threshold (r2 ≥ 0.1), a genome-wide average of LD extended up to genetic distance of 25 cM in assayed cotton variety accessions. Genome wide LD at r2 ≥ 0.2 was reduced to ~5–6 cM, providing evidence of the potential for association mapping of agronomically important traits in cotton. Results suggest linkage, selection, inbreeding, population stratification, and genetic drift as the potential LD-generating factors in cotton. In two environments, an average of ~20 SSR markers was associated with each main fiber quality traits using a unified mixed liner model (MLM) incorporating population structure and kinship. These MLM-derived significant associations were confirmed in general linear model and structured association test, accounting for population structure and permutation-based multiple testing. Several common markers, showing the significant associations in both Uzbekistan and Mexican environments, were determined. Between 7 and 43% of the MLM-derived significant associations were supported by a minimum Bayes factor at ‘moderate to strong’ and ‘strong to very strong’ evidence levels, suggesting their usefulness for marker-assisted breeding programs and overall effectiveness of association mapping using cotton germplasm resources.