Background: Corn borers are the primary maize pest; their feeding on the pith results in stem damage and yield losses. In this study, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify SNPs associated with resistance to Mediterranean corn borer in a maize diversity panel using a set of more than 240,000 SNPs.
Results: Twenty five SNPs were significantly associated with three resistance traits: 10 were significantly associated with tunnel length, 4 with stem damage, and 11 with kernel resistance. Allelic variation at each significant SNP was associated with from 6 to 9% of the phenotypic variance. A set of genes containing or physically close to these SNPs are proposed as candidate genes for borer resistance, supported by their involvement in plant defense-related mechanisms in previously published evidence. The linkage disequilibrium decayed (r(2) < 0.10) rapidly within short distance, suggesting high resolution of GWAS associations.
Conclusions: Most of the candidate genes found in this study are part of signaling pathways, others act as regulator of expression under biotic stress condition, and a few genes are encoding enzymes with antibiotic effect against insects such as the cystatin1 gene and the defensin proteins. These findings contribute to the understanding the complex relationship between plant-insect interactions.